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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 19:19 GMT
State profile: Minnesota
Minnesota barely registered on the national political radar screen until 1998, when Minnesotans went to the polls in record numbers to elect a former professional wrestler named Jesse "The Body" Ventura as their governor.

Although his win was largely personality-driven, it came after the Republicans and Democrats had forsaken the political centre, but they have since returned, and politics is less interesting and more competitive for it.

Less interesting because, having said something to alienate virtually every interest group in the state, Ventura declined to stand for re-election in 2002, and a Republican, Tim Pawlenty, took his place.

KEY FACTS
Population: 4,919,479 (ranked 21 among states)
Governor: Tim Pawlenty (R)
Electoral college votes: 10

The Reform Party (which in Minnesota became the Independence Party), which at the time seemed able to break the mould of two-party politics, has since faded away.

More competitive because while the Independence Party has diminished, the Greens are relatively strong here.

And Republicans think the 2002 result augurs well for them in 2004.

2003 CONGRESS
House of Representatives:
4 Democrat, 4 Republican
Senate: 1 Democrat, 1 Republican
In 2000, George W Bush lost Minnesota by just 2%, and if he can eke out a victory here this time, it would be the first for a Republican since Richard Nixon in 1972.

But presidential politics here is historically Democrat. Candidates Hubert Humphrey (in 1968) and Walter Mondale (in 1984) were senators here and both came from the Democrat farm labour tradition.

Such was the party's dominance here that in 1984, Minnesota was the only state not to vote for Ronald Reagan.

VOTING RECORD
2000: Bush 46%, Gore 48%
1996: Clinton 51%, Dole 35%, Perot 12%
1992: Clinton 43%, Bush 32%, Perot 24%
Like Wisconsin and North Dakota, Minnesota pioneered welfare provision at the beginning of the 20th Century and more recently became the first state to produce an anti-smoking bill and a public campaign finance scheme.

These political traditions had, until recently, a powerful voice in the form of the outspoken liberal Democrat Senator Paul Wellstone, but he died in a plane crash just days before the 2002 elections and his seat was won by Republican Norm Coleman.





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