ANOKA, Minn. — In Anoka County, Minnesota, the basketball game is familiar but the faces in the crowd are changing. The farmers and merchants who helped make Minnesota a Democratic stronghold now share the stands with an increasingly Republican band of professionals and commuters.
"Minnesota used to be liberal Democrat land," says Carleton College political analyst Steven Schier. "It's nobody's permanent land right now. It's really in flux."
Old Minnesota politics starred liberal Democrats like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. Democratic presidential candidates have won this state for the last 30 years.
But now, in the "land of 10,000 lakes," presidential politics is a close call. John Kerry won the state by fewer than 100,000 votes.
Minnesota's political battleground is "the exurbs" — the growing outer rim of suburbs where new subdivisions meet the farmland. It's the fastest growing area of the state. George Bush beat John Kerry in the seven counties that circle Minneapolis and St. Paul by nine percentage points.
In Anoka County, 30 miles from Minneapolis, what was once Oscar Swanson's hay field is now full of ranch-style houses. The old starch factory is a Casey's convenience store.
Peggy and David Scott moved to the county to start a real estate business and raise a family.
"We're living in a really conservative part of town," says David. "I don't think we really knew that when we moved here."
The Scotts are very much at home as big Bush supporters. They believe in school vouchers, lower taxes and are strongly opposed to gay marriage.
"It's nice to know that the neighbor kids, who your kids are playing with, that that family holds similar values that you do," says Peggy.
Ted Mondale — yes, the son of former vice president Walter Mondale and an active Democrat — has been studying Minnesota's exurban voters.
"In the exurbs, I think they move to the sort of self-reliant, accountability, tough-on-government spending message that Bush had," says Mondale. "I don't think we [Democrats] had a counter message in that area."
It's in this changing area — and for this changing electorate — that Democrats will have to fight to keep Minnesota from going blue to red.
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