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Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken and former President Bill Clinton greet an estimated 4,000 people at a Thursday rally in Minneapolis. staff photo by Scott Wente

Clinton says much riding on Minnesota

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Clinton says much riding on Minnesota
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MINNEAPOLIS - Former President Bill Clinton and top Minnesota Democrats warned supporters not to get comfortable as they near a promising Election Day.


The former president, campaigning in Minnesota for the first time since earlier this year, said Thursday Democrat Barack Obama is well-positioned to take the country in a new direction.

But, he added, to be effective Obama will need more Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

"You got a lot riding on your shoulders," Clinton told the enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center. "Minnesota's led this country in a lot of ways. You can lead us again. But to lead us again you have to elect Barack Obama and Al Franken to the United States Senate."

As the long campaign draws to a close, the former president is appearing on behalf of the Illinois senator leading in the 2008 presidential race. But the Minneapolis rally was to energize the campaigns of Obama, who is leading Republican Sen. John McCain in Minnesota, and Franken, who most polls show in a dead heat with Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

Clinton heaped praise on Franken, calling him a policy wonk who is "intelligent and passionate," and brave for standing up to criticisms leveled against him for his career as a comedian.

"He crosses the hurdle way high for being a good senator for you," Clinton said during a 34-minute speech.

Clinton said that earlier Thursday, during an Ohio campaign stop for Obama, he convinced two people who had supported his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, in the presidential primary to side with Obama.

"It is never too late to get more votes for Al and Barack Obama and you should not give up on that," he said.

One by one, top Democrats urged the crowd to work tirelessly over the next four days leading up to Tuesday.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, two generations removed from many in the crowd, asked supporters to volunteer for the campaigns and help get voters to the polls.

"I can feel victory in the air, and here we are just a few days away from what I consider one of the most fateful elections in American history," Mondale said. "And it is close and we must fight complacency."

The campaigns said around 4,000 people turned out for the Clinton-headlined rally, citing a Minneapolis fire official's estimate. The all-ages crowd rushed into the cavernous hall wearing Democratic buttons and Obama shirts and carrying Franken signs.

"Our biggest enemy right now is being too complacent," said Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, one of several top Democrats who urged supporters to work hard in the campaign's final four days. "We need to work like we are 10 points behind."

Franken's campaign got big-name help last week, too, when Hillary Clinton stumped for him. During a Minneapolis campaign stop, the New York senator stood with Franken and urged activists to help him get elected. She then went to the Iron Range to campaign for Obama.

Republicans said they welcomed the former president to Minnesota, but said the Thursday event was meant to pump new life into Franken's stagnant campaign.

"My sense is this is probably more to help Al Franken because his campaign needs a shot in the arm," Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said. "I'm not sure how many people are going to vote for Al because Bill Clinton dropped into town for a few hours."

Despite the big Democratic rally, Coleman seems to have the late-campaign momentum and is drawing large crowds at rallies around the state, Carey said.

"At this point, the candidate is the best salesperson," the chairman said.

The Clinton rally capped a busy day in the Senate race. Earlier Thursday, Coleman's campaign sued Franken, claiming two of his ads contained false statements about the senator. Franken's campaign responded by saying it stands by the ads.