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Candidates eye Tuesday Minn. caucus

Minnesota matters in the Republican presidential race.

The schedules of the remaining four contenders verifies that, even though the voting at Tuesday night’s caucuses will be a non-binding straw poll.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul had rallies and town hall meetings scheduled in Rochester, Chanhassen and Arden Hills Saturday and events in St. Cloud and Minneapolis expected today.

Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, after holding a rally in Luverne a week ago, made a daylong Minnesota visit Sunday, including a morning church stop in Eden Prairie, a trip to Bemidji to tour the facility that makes his signature sweater vests and a Super Bowl party in Waconia.

Front-runner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was in Minnesota on Wednesday.

Area Republicans — and even independents who are open to the idea of supporting Republican candidates on Nov. 6 — are welcome to make their preference known at the precinct meetings starting at 7 p.m. at thousands of locations around Minnesota. Anyone eligible to vote in the general election is eligible to participate in the straw poll.

Most Blue Earth County Republicans will be meeting at Mankato East High School, although some towns and townships in the southern part of the county will meet at the Maple River School in Mapleton.

The Mankato event will start with all attendees meeting in the school auditorium for speeches by any candidates who might be on hand and the reading of letters from the presidential candidates by volunteers for those campaigns, said Jon Kovaciny, chairman of the Blue Earth County Republican Party.

That will take about 45 minutes, and then caucus-goers will split off into their precincts where the straw poll will be taken. Total time commitment?

“It’d probably be an hour,” Kovaciny said.

People who want to vote in the presidential straw poll and skip the rest of the caucus agenda, which can run for another hour or more, won’t be kept against their will, said Nicollet County Republican Co-Chairman Peter Trocke.

“If they care to leave after that, they’re more than welcome to leave,” Trocke said.

The rest of the caucus agenda will include organizational activity, voting on proposed policy positions to be included in the party’s official platform and the election of delegates to county conventions. The latter activity will be the crucial part for candidates seeking the party endorsement for contests other than president.

The biggest endorsement battle locally is the 1st District congressional race between former state Rep. Allen Quist of St. Peter and state Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca. The delegates elected Tuesday night will be pared down at later conventions in March, and those that advance to the 1st District Republican Convention on April 21 in Mankato will decide whether to endorse Quist or Parry to challenge Democratic Congressman Tim Walz on Nov. 6.

Republicans also need to endorse a challenger to Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar at a state convention in May.

Kovaciny encourages people to stay for the delegate selection and even consider seeking a delegate slot.

“If they’re interested in shaping the Republican Party, it’s important to stick around for the rest of it,” he said.

St. Peter Republicans are meeting at North Elementary School, and North Mankato Republicans are at Fire Station No. 2 on Howard Drive.

GOP Caucuses

LeRoy Community Center

Precincts at this location: Clayton, Bennington, Lodi, LeRoy and Taopi

Racine City Hall

Precincts at this location: Pleasant Valley, Racine, Grand Meadow and Frankford

Mower County Senior Center, Austin

Precincts at this location: Austin, Austin Township, Lansing, Udolpho, Red Rock, Waltham, Dexter, Sargeant, Mapleview, Brownsdale, Lyle, Nevada, Windom, Adams, Marshall, Rose Creek and Elkton

Democratic Caucuses

El Parral, Austin

Precincts at this location: All precincts