ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota got a late burst of attention Sunday from the two presidential campaigns, as former President Bill Clinton stumped for the Obama campaign in St. Cloud while Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan rallied at the Minneapolis airport.
For most of the campaign both candidates' campaigns largely ignored Minnesota, with its 10 electoral votes seen as safe pickings for President Barack Obama. But a recent statewide poll by the Star Tribune showed the Democrat's lead over Republican Mitt Romney had dwindled to within the margin of error, prompting the last-minute flurry.
The Clinton and Ryan events both drew thousands of enthusiastic supporters. The former president has been campaigning hard for Obama in recent weeks. Speaking to an overflow crowd before he entered the main rally in a St. Cloud State University ballroom, he apologized for his noticeably hoarse voice.
"We're coming down to the end of this campaign, but there's still votes to be gotten, people to be persuaded," said Clinton, who had appeared earlier in the day with Obama at a massive New Hampshire rally. "We need your help. The president needs your help."
Clinton was joined by Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken as well as Jim Graves, challenger to GOP U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
A few hours earlier, Ryan touched down at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on a campaign swing that also took him through battleground states Ohio and Colorado. At the Minnesota rally, inside a hangar, Ryan told the enthusiastic crowd that Romney is the clear choice in what he called "the most important election in our generation."
"We can't handle four more years of this," Ryan said. "Minnesota, join with us, work with us, and in two more days we can get America back on track."
A congressman from neighboring Wisconsin, Ryan played to the Minnesota audience. He pointed out a "Vikings for Romney-Ryan" sign in the crowd and noted he is often mistaken for a Minnesotan.
"We're the Catholic deer hunters. You're the Lutheran deer hunters," Ryan said.
Jeff Blodgett, the Obama campaign's Minnesota director, said at the Clinton event he thought Republicans were overstating Romney's chances of taking the state, which hasn't gone for a Republican president since 1972. But he also acknowledged that Obama can't afford to lose the state.
"It's a must-win state for the president," Blodgett said.
Devin Johnson, a St. Cloud State philosophy major and Obama supporter, said he was feeling good about the president's chances with the election days away. "The most important thing right now is to not lose the momentum," said Johnson.
Tom Fisher, a St. Cloud resident at the rally, described himself as more liberal than Obama but said at this stage of the race he's dropped any reservations about supporting him.
"If it's a choice between someone trying to do the right thing, and someone who'll do worse than nothing, I'll take Obama," Fisher said.
Associated Press reporter Philip Elliot contributed to this report.