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First-timers among caucus-goers

Attending her first precinct caucus, Linda Rees-Christianson spoke on behalf of 6th District Democratic congressional candidate Maureen Reed. Staff photo by Scott Wente.

Local political activists - and candidates - are preparing for the next event of the 2010 political year.

Around 400 people turned out for each the Democratic and Republican precinct caucuses last week, casting straw ballots for the Minnesota governor's race and selecting party supporters to attend the Senate District 56 endorsing conventions in March.

Local party leaders were energized after the caucuses.

Senate District 56 Republicans chair Joe Salmon said he was pleased that the number of attendees represented a larger turnout than a typical "off-year" election.

"I think the enthusiasm was above average," said Salmon, who was elected as chair of the senate district Republicans last year. "A lot of people showed up for the first time and they want to get involved. Others had drifted away and they are now back."

The Independence Party continues its precinct caucus online through the end of the month.

A big draw of the precinct caucuses was a nonbinding straw poll for the governor's race.

Poll results in Senate District 56, which includes Woodbury, did not mirror the statewide totals. State Rep. Marty Seifert barely eked out a victory among local Republican activists, garnering 171 votes to Rep. Tom Emmer's 164. Statewide, Seifert got 50 percent of the straw vote to Emmer's 39 percent.

On the Democratic side of the governor straw poll, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher came in a close second to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, each getting a little more than 20 percent of the support statewide. Some 14 percent of Democrats were uncommitted. Local results for the DFL straw poll were not made available before press time.

The local precinct caucuses saw some newcomers get elected as party endorsing convention delegates.

Getting involved

Health care frustrations prompted Linda Rees-Christianson to become politically active.

Rees-Christianson said she decided to attend her first Democratic caucus because of her family's experiences with health care insurance. She said her husband is unemployed and, as a result, they lost health care insurance. Common, yet disqualifying, pre-existing health conditions made obtaining health insurance difficult, she said.

Rees-Christianson wants national health care reform and is supporting Democrat Maureen Reed, a physician, in this year's 6th District congressional race. The Reed campaign asked her to attend the caucus.

"That's the beginning of the process and the beginning of getting involved," Rees-Christianson said.

Though she was new to the caucus experience, Rees-Christianson was elected a delegate to the Senate District 56 DFL endorsing convention next month.

A self-described moderate Democrat, Rees-Christianson said she hopes to move on to the congressional endorsing convention because she is most interested in the U.S. House race. Democrats want to prevent Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican, from winning a third term.

A young voice

First-time Republican caucus goer, Will Fenton, will be 18 years old by the time the Nov. 2 general election rolls around. He was elected to be a delegate at the Republican Senate District 56 endorsing convention.

The East Ridge High School junior comes from a family that discusses politics openly at the dinner table, and he said those conversations helped motivate him to want to have a say in the political process.

"I've always been interested in politics," said Fenton, whose mother Kelly is active in local Republican campaigning circles.

Fenton will join about 150 other district delegates at the March 6 district endorsing convention in endorsing Republican candidates for District 56 races. A small portion of those delegates will then be elected to represent their district at the state endorsing convention.

Fenton said he isn't sure if he will make an attempt to serve as a delegate at the state level, but said he knows that young people need to find ways to make their voices heard in politics.

"It just seems like the politicians serving now are not really thinking about the future," Fenton said. "Their decisions are going to be passed down to my generation, and I just figured I'd like to represent my age group to let them know what we think is best for the next generation."