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Minnesotans await Obama in Cannon Falls park

Minnesotans await Obama in Cannon Falls park Chad Richardson - photo1 / 2
"I want all of you to understand. There is nothing we're facing that we can't solve with some spirit of America first." Chad Richardson - photo2 / 2

Residents of the first two states Obama plans to visit, Minnesota and Iowa, closely watched Republican presidential contenders in recent days and the Democratic president wants his say, too.

The 500 waiting for the president in a riverside park quietly listened to music blaring from loudspeakers for nearly three hours before his expected arrival.

"This is outstanding. And how you can be 25 feet from the president of the United States is fantastic," said Mark Carlson of Northfield, Minn.

He came with his wife, Katrina Karlsen, who was first in line at 4 a.m. Sunday morning to get tickets.

Dawn Schreyer was in the last group to get tickets. She was focused on the rural initiatives the president is expected to announce.

"We're interested to see him and hear what his plans are," the Cannon Falls woman said.

Also in the crowd, in addition to Goodhue County officials and Minnesota lawmakers, was Igor Vovkavinskly, wearing a T-shirt proclaiming he is the "Obama's biggest fan." He's the tallest American -- at 7 feet 8 inches -- and possibly the world.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warmed up the crowd by promoting a recently completed report he organized that praises the Obama administration's work in rural America.

Amid chants of "one-term president" and "USA," Republicans rallied downtown hours before President Barack Obama was scheduled to speak.

During what Republicans called a "taxpayer-funded campaign tour," Obama is slated to speak in Cannon Falls about the rural economy and jobs.

But Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said that isn't enough.

"The president wants to talk about jobs, but that's all it is - talk," Sutton told the crowd.

"In Minnesota we're hurting and we're hurting bad," he said. He encouraged Obama to "release the shackles of taxes and regulations on businesses" to help create jobs."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also railed against stagnant job growth, along with the country's recently downgraded credit rating and the rollercoaster economy.

"We are in a battle of freedom," Priebus said. "A country that has to surrender its sovereignty to its bond holders can't guarantee prosperity or freedom to anybody."

Those in the riverside crowd talked politics, and the sunny and warm weather while watching the Cannon River flow nearby.

Obama wants to distance himself from congressional

Republicans who he blames for the failure to draw up a better debt-reduction plan.

"The response from Washington has been partisanship and gridlock that's only undermined public confidence and hindered our efforts to grow the economy," Obama said in his regular weekend address. "So while there's nothing wrong with our country, there is something wrong with our politics, and that's what we've got to fix. Because we know there are things Congress can do, right now, to get more money back in your pockets, get this economy growing faster, and get our friends and neighbors back to work."

Obama plans to talk about the economy in his three-day Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois trip in four town hall meetings and a rural economic development forum in eastern Iowa.

The trip followed by days the release of an Obama administration report saying it is doing a good job serving rural America. He is expected to emphasize the rural economy during the trip.

More importantly, the trip comes after Saturday's Republican Iowa presidential straw poll that has consumed political discussion for days, if not weeks.

While Iowa voters were paying attention to the poll, so were those in Minnesota, where two key candidates live.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota won the straw poll, with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas close on her heels.

Bachmann's victory was so decisive that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty bowed out of the race Sunday.

With so much Republican publicity, Obama today is expected to make his own noise.

The White House calls the bus trip an official function, although many Republicans think it looks more like his first re-election trip for the 2012 campaign.

A few hundred people received tickets for today's event after standing in line outside Cannon Falls City Hall Sunday afternoon. Hundreds were turned away after tickets were given out.

Among those who got tickets was Katrina Karlsen, who police would not allow to camp out overnight Saturday. Still she stopped by City Hall throughout the night.

"Every hour on the hour we'd come back to monitor the situation," she said. "I met all the officers. They each took turns throwing us out."

Karlsen and others at Lower Hannah's Bend Park were basking in clear skies and enjoying warm weather this morning while waiting for the president, accompanied by fellow Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton, The two briefly served together in the U.S. Senate.

They have a lot in common this year.

Both face legislative bodies controlled by Republicans, who see things far differently than the Democratic chief executives.

First, Dayton battled Republicans who control the state House and Senate over a two-year budget. He wanted to raise taxes, while Republicans wanted to control spending.

Then, Obama faced GOP House control, with narrow Democratic Senate control, in talks over the national debt. The arguments sounded much the same as in Minnesota, with Obama calling for tax increases and Republicans seeking budget cuts.

The Red Wing Republican Eagle staff contributed to this story. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.