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Minnesota Democrats gather to hear Sanders, Clinton give back-to-back speeches

ST. PAUL -- Hillary Clinton used a 29-minute Minnesota speech Friday night to claw back from a surprisingly narrow Iowa caucus win last week and a 22-point New Hampshire loss to Bernie Sanders earlier this week.

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Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (left) and Bernie Sanders address the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's Humphrey-Mondale Dinner in St. Paul on Friday night. (Reuters photos by Eric Miller (left) and Jim Young)

ST. PAUL -- Hillary Clinton used a 29-minute Minnesota speech Friday night to claw back from a surprisingly narrow Iowa caucus win last week and a 22-point New Hampshire loss to Bernie Sanders earlier this week.

Minutes earlier, Sanders spoke for 37 minutes, promoting his progressive credentials and his desire to trim the power of big corporations, including in political campaigns.

The Clinton and Sanders speeches came during the fifth annual Humphrey-Mondale dinner, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's $1 million fundraiser. Democrats packed the St. Paul RiverCentre, after tickets sold out soon after it was announced their candidates would appear. 

Minnesota Democrats gathered to hear the two in record numbers, with record contributions. While both were well received, Clinton easily won the battle of cheers from a crowd that paid at least $50 each to attend, a price too steep for many of Sanders' young supporters.

Clinton praised President Barack Obama for making advancements, promising to follow them with more.

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"I will build on the progress he made because I am a progressive who actually likes to make progress," she said, her voice elevating.

The former secretary of state blended her experience with her philosophy.

"I learned from my family and my faith, try to do all the good you can for as long as you can for as many people as you can," she said.

Sanders quickly hit one of his main topics: "This country belongs to all of us, not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors."

Before arriving at the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party fundraiser, Sanders lunched on a tuna sandwich at a St. Paul diner, visited a nurses' meeting and attended a forum about black and Native American issues. Clinton stopped only at St. Paul's RiverCentre, where the pair delivered their speeches.

Sanders' forum was in the neighborhood of the police shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, a black man. He did not mention Clark, but promised to "do everything I can do end institutional racism. ...  We will not continue to let young people, often African Americans, be shot by police officers."

When a young black woman wanted Sanders to talk specifically about black issues, the candidate angered her by refusing. He said people like Latinos and rural whites also have problems that need to be addressed.

In her speech Friday night, Clinton frequently brought up Minnesota issues and people.

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While talking about economic opportunities, she mentioned Clark. She praised Gov. Mark Dayton's recent announcement of a plan to pay state workers six weeks of parental leave after a baby is born or adopted. She also thanked Minnesotans for last week sending a letter seeking federal funds for American Indian schools.

Clinton opened her speech talking about a long list of well-known Minnesota Democrats, including Dayton. She talked about how Dayton has stood against conservatives and created the best job record in the country, mentioning the Iron Range and communities of color.

She also frequently sought support in the state's March 1 caucuses.

Sanders said little about Minnesota and did not mention the caucuses.

Many Democrats at the gathering said young people are making the race tight.

State Rep. Mary Murphy of Hermantown, active in Democratic politics since the early 1960s, said she sees proof in Northeastern Minnesota that young people are turning out for Sanders, in part thanks to the many college students in the region.

While Democrats at the St. Paul fundraiser said they like having two competitive candidates, Murphy said it would be nice to have more political variety because the two candidates are "liberal and more liberal."

Sanders did not talk about agriculture issues, but he could pick up farmer support.

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President Doug Peterson of the Minnesota Farmers Union said about Sanders: "There is this populism that appeals to people."

Former state Rep. Ted Winter of Fulda said farmers relate to Sanders because "he is real. He hasn't changed anything since he started."

A police officer and state lawmaker, Dan Schoen of Newport, said Clinton would be better for public safety, both within the country and when it comes to homeland security.

"She has the background," Schoen said of the former secretary of state.

While Sanders talks a lot about law enforcement, Schoen said that he has not delivered specific solutions.

Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said the turnout at the March 1 precinct caucuses may not top record 2008 numbers, when Obama eventually beat Clinton. He predicted up to 175,000 could attend.

Interest in the race was shown not only in the 4,000 who attended Friday night, but with a record $1 million raised for the DFL even before various fundraisers throughout the night.

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