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McCain sings Pawlenty's praises as tight race nears conclusion

Arizona senator and Republican presidential frontrunner for 2008 John McCain stumped in Duluth on Wednesday afternoon for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's heated re-election campaign.

Arizona senator and Republican presidential frontrunner for 2008 John McCain stumped in Duluth on Wednesday afternoon for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's heated re-election campaign.

About 130 people gathered in an airplane hangar at Duluth International Airport for the rally and media event aimed at giving Pawlenty a northern boost less than a week before the general election, in which Pawlenty opposes DFLer Mike Hatch, the state's attorney general.

We all know "that this is not the most friendly part of the ... state for our governor. But let's surprise him," McCain said late in his 15-minute speech aimed at pushing Republicans to get their neighbors to the polls.

In a governor's race that polls show is close, McCain said the victor will be decided by volunteer efforts over the next few days.

"It's going to come down to who gets out the vote," McCain said.

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He said Pawlenty has the potential to become a national figure in the Republican Party and a national leader -- hinting, some speculate, at higher office, possibly even a Pawlenty vice presidential bid on a McCain presidential ticket.

McCain praised Pawlenty's efforts to balance the state's budget, turning a $4.3 billion shortfall into a $1 billion surplus over four years, and the governor's efforts to reduce the state tax burden and support military veterans.

"He is one of the great leaders of America as well as Minnesota," McCain said.

McCain, 70, a media favorite and frequent guest on political shows, and who even hosted Saturday Night Live, ran an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, losing a sometimes-bitter primary battle with George W. Bush. McCain has been both an outcast and a darling within his party and has sparred often with Bush. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, McCain had a 22-year military career. Five of those years were spent in a prisoner of war camp after he was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War.

McCain was elected to Congress in 1982, then elected U.S. senator from Arizona in 1986, a seat he has held since. He said he'll decide early in 2007 whether to seek the White House.

With Bush scoring low in popularity polls, McCain has become a dependable money- and publicity-generator for Republicans this election year. On Tuesday he was in Indiana and Michigan, while earlier Wednesday in Minnesota McCain stumped in Rochester and Blaine. He had an evening rally scheduled in Moorhead.

Duluthian Don Henkel said he attended the event to see McCain and to lend support to Pawlenty.

"We're lifelong Republicans," said Henkel, of the Kenwood neighborhood. "We're here a little to see the senator and to help our governor get re-elected."

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Fern Anderson, who lives outside Carlton, said she was there with her husband to back Pawlenty. She wasn't as enthusiastic about McCain, who she said may be a bit too moderate for some Republicans.

"We like what Pawlenty stands for. We're in our 80s now and kind of conservative, and family values are important to us," Anderson said. "I'm not that fond of McCain. He's sort of on the fence on a lot of things."

Pawlenty trailed Hatch by almost 10 points in recent voter opinion polls, although most observers believe the race will end up very close. A Mason-Dixon Poll released Wednesday showed the race within a couple of points, with Hatch holding a small lead. Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson is polling at less than 10 percent.

As McCain hinted, Pawlenty faces a tough battle garnering votes in Northeastern Minnesota. In 2002, in his battle against DFLer Roger Moe and Independence candidate Tim Penny, Pawlenty averaged less than 30 percent of the vote in most St. Louis County precincts. Pawlenty won statewide, however, with44 percent of the vote compared to Moe's 35 percent and Penny's 16 percent.

Hatch said Wednesday that Northern Minnesotans shouldn't expect a rally featuring a national Democratic star because he doesn't want to owe anything to a national political figure. DFLers are expected to hold a rally in Duluth on Monday for all candidates, Hatch said.

Hatch also blasted Republicans for pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race at the last minute, saying he expects the money from national Republican groups to pay for negative advertising against him.

Pawlenty said Wednesday his campaign has no control over ads that aren't paid for by his campaign. The governor noted that he has been the butt of many negative ads paid for by left-leaning groups outside the Hatch campaign.

By spending money after Oct. 23, the groups' members won't be disclosed until after the election.

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"The whole concept of campaign finance laws is accountability: who's financing the campaign. But with all of this money coming in after the disclosure deadline ... Minnesotans don't find out until long after the election is over,'' Hatch said. Democratic groups that have paid for ads against Pawlenty "have been from Minnesota and haven't tried to hide who they are.''

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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