Always political, Jennifer Carnahan turned to caucusing after she left corporate America to become a small-business owner. She quickly became disillusioned with government on both sides of the aisle and wanted a bigger voice, she said last week in a bipartisan conference call to promote Tuesday's precinct caucuses across Minnesota.
"I was interested in politics my entire life," she said from the Twin Cities. "I voted since the day I turned 18, and I always had strong opinions at the state and national level."
Carnahan showed up early to her first Republican Party caucus and was tasked with the role of event secretary. Then came an offer to campaign for state office. Now, just two years after attending her first caucus, Carnahan is chairwoman for the state GOP.
It started with a first step.
"It really is the opportunity for everyday citizens to get involved in their political parties and have a say in candidates, who the (party) leaders are and what the platforms are," Carnahan said.
Carnahan was joined by state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Chairman Ken Martin, who touted a Minnesota ballot brimming with big races.
"Minnesota will be an epicenter (of the 2018 midterm election) with two U.S. Senate seats, four swing congressional races and an open governorship," Martin said. "No other state in the country has more target races."
Both parties will start caucus activities at local precincts with a straw poll for the wide-open Minnesota governor's race. With Gov. Mark Dayton choosing not to seek re-election, more than a dozen candidates have emerged from across the parties. Results of statewide gubernatorial straw polling figure to be available later in the night Tuesday.
No other race will feature polling, the party sources said.
But in Duluth and the surrounding Northland, DFL caucuses will begin differentiating between three-time incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, of Crosby, and challenger Leah Phifer, a Two Harbors native and Isanti resident.
"It's the first opportunity we have as a party to coalesce behind our candidates," Martin said.
To participate in one's party caucus, a person must be eligible to vote or be eligible by the November election, and must agree with party principles. Participation means voting or even running as a local party leader or convention delegate. However, observers are also welcomed.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Wilson of Hermantown illustrated the nimble nature of caucusing by saying she filled out a non-attendee form which will allow her to still seek delegate status despite missing her caucus for the first time in several years.
"I always go to caucus," she said, "but this year I'm going to be out of town. So I'm submitting (the form) so I can be a delegate anyway."
Martin, the DFL chairman, used a variety of ways to describe what it means to actively caucus, alternately saying it was "a chance for ordinary people to roll up their sleeves and get involved," and a part of a "proud tradition of allowing grassroots politics to drive the process."
County, district and state conventions follow the caucuses in the coming months, with delegates either advancing in support of their candidates or changing to ally with another candidate as they gain momentum toward a party endorsement. Neither the GOP nor DFL delegate statuses are binding to a single candidate in the lead-up to endorsements, the party sources said.
The 2016 presidential election season drew 320,000 statewide caucus-goers, the party sources said. And while the caucuses that kick off the 2018 midterm elections are not expected to rival that number, both Carnahan and Martin agreed that the passionate reaction to President Trump by his supporters and opponents figures to fuel lively and well-attended processes.
"They may sound mysterious," Martin said of caucuses, "but they were quite simply meetings - neighbors gathering to begin the endorsing process."
Duluth and area caucus locations
Minnesota's party caucuses are Tuesday begin at 7 p.m., with registration at most DFL and some other sites formally starting at 6:30 p.m. To find out where you caucus, visit caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us. What follows are the locations for some of the caucuses in and around Duluth:
- Duluth city precincts 1-5, 8 (MN House 7A), East High School, 301 N. 40th Ave. E.
- Precincts 6-7, 9-10, 12-13 (MN House 7A), Ordean East Middle School, 2900 E. Fourth St.
- Precincts 14-15, 17 (MN House 7A) and 16, 19 (MN House 7B), Historic Old Central High School, 215 N. First Ave. E.
- Precincts 18, 20-22, 24-25 (MN House 7B), Lincoln Park Middle School, 3215 W Third St.
- Precincts 26-34 (MN House 7B), Denfeld High School, 401 N. 44th Ave. W.
- Precincts 11 and 23, Lowell Elementary School, 2000 Rice Lake Road
- House District 7A, Ordean East Middle School, 2900 E. Fourth St.
- House District 7B, Lincoln Park Middle School, 3215 W. Third St.
- House District 3B (Duluth city precincts 11 and 23), Homecroft Elementary, 4784 Howard Gnesen Road
- no precinct caucuses; state caucus scheduled for March 24 at Rondo Library in St. Paul.
- for northern Minnesota, Cloquet High School, 100 18th St., Cloquet, 7 p.m.
- no information available
Additional DFL caucuses
- Hermantown Precincts 1, 2, 3, Hermantown Middle School, 4307 Ugstad Road
- Midway Township, Proctor Community Center, 100 Pionk Drive
- Solway Townships, Solway Town Hall, 4029 Munger Shaw Road
- Proctor (west of Boundary Avenue), Proctor Community Center, 100 Pionk Drive, Proctor
- Canosia Township, Pike Lake Elementary, 5682 Martin Road
- Duluth Township, North Shore School, 5296 Ryan Road
- Normanna Township, Gnesen Community Center, 6356 Howard Gnesen Road
- Lakewood Township, Lakewood School, 5207 N. Tischer Road
- Rice Lake, Rice Lake Town Hall, 4107 W. Beyer Road
- Townships of Stoney Brook, Arrowhead, Brevator and Culver, including Brookston, Brookston Hall, 8722 First St. S., Brookston
- Two Harbors, Silver Creek Township, Two Harbors High School
- Silver Bay, Beaver Bay, Crystal Bay Township, William Kelley Schools in Silver Bay
Carlton County DFL caucuses
- All city of Cloquet wards and the city of Scanlon, Cloquet High School cafeteria
- The cities of Carlton and Wrenshall and townships of Twin Lakes, Perch Lake, Wrenshall, Silver Brook and Sawyer Unorganized, Carlton County Transportation Building
- Cities of Moose Lake and Sturgeon Lake P-2 and townships of Moose Lake, Windemere and Kerrick, Moose Lake Community School
- City of Kettle River and townships of Automba, Kalevala, Silver and Split Rock, Kettle River Senior Center
- Thomson Township (including Esko), Esko High School Auditorium
- City of Barnum and townships of Barnum, Skelton, Mahtowa, Blackhoof and Atkinson, Barnum High School
- Cities of Cromwell and Wright and townships of Eagle, Lakeview, Beseman, Red Clover Unorganized, Corona Unorganized and Progress Unorganized, Cromwell-Wright Public Schools
- Townships of Holyoke and Clear Creek Unorganized, Holyoke Town Hall
Additional Republican caucuses
House District 3B caucus locations
- Hermantown Precincts 1, 2, 3, along with Midway and Solway townships, Hermantown Middle School, 4335 Hawk Circle Drive
- Proctor (west of Boundary Avenue), Hermantown Middle School, 4335 Hawk Circle Drive
- Canosia Township, Canosia Town Hall, 4896 Midway Road
- Duluth, Normanna and Lakewood townships and the city of Rice Lake, Homecroft Elementary School, 4784 Howard Gnesen Road
- Two Harbors, Silver Creek Township, Two Harbors Community Center
- Silver Bay, Beaver Bay, Crystal Bay Township, William Kelley Schools in Silver Bay
Carlton County Republican caucuses
- All Cloquet wards plus the city of Scanlon and Perch Lake Township, Cloquet High School in rooms E106-E110. Enter through Door No. 7 by the big gym
- Thomson Township (including Esko), Esko High School, Room 132
- Southeastern precincts: cities of Carlton (including Thomson) and Wrenshall and townships of Blackhoof, Clear Creek Unorganized, Holyoke, Silver Brook, Twin Lakes and Wrenshall, Carlton High School, Room 10
- Southwestern precincts: cities of Barnum, Moose Lake and Kettle River and townships of Atkinson, Barnum, Kalevala, Mahtowa, Silver and Skelton, Moose Lake Community School in the high school library
- West-central and northern precincts: cities of Cromwell and Wright and townships of Automba, Beseman, Corona Unorganized, Eagle, Lakeview, Progress Unorganized, Red Clover Unorganized, Sawyer Unorganized and Split Rock, Cromwell High School library