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To primary or not to primary in Minnesota?

ST. PAUL Barack Obama and Mitt Romney liked Tuesday's precinct caucus results, but some political leaders already are looking to other ways for Minnesotans to pick their presidential hopefuls.

ST. PAUL Barack Obama and Mitt Romney liked Tuesday's precinct caucus results, but some political leaders already are looking to other ways for Minnesotans to pick their presidential hopefuls.

As both political parties brag about turnout, stories abound about woes caucus goers encountered when trying to attend the caucuses. Some precinct leaders scrambled to accommodate overflow crowds, and traffic jams were reported in the Twin Cities area as well as in rural communities as a record number of Minnesotans crammed into school classrooms and churches statewide.

The turnout prompted some state legislators Wednesday to propose that Minnesota should switch to a presidential primary vote, like in other states such as Wisconsin, while retaining precinct caucuses for other political party business.

"We think it is time to rethink the way in which we invite civic engagement in our political process," said Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope. She said she will draft a bill for consideration during the upcoming legislative session, which begins Tuesday.

Under Rest's proposal, the political parties would decide when to hold presidential primaries and whether the votes are binding. It would not abandon the caucus format entirely. Caucuses are vital and allow people to have an impact on organization of political parties, she said.


Nineteen hours after caucuses ended, Democratic leaders had worked through a complex formula that gave Obama a 48-24 edge in delegates over U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. The delegate counts are estimates pending final returns being reported. Those delegates are pledged to support the candidates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, while another 16 "super delegates" may vote however they want. Super delegates include party leaders, high elected officials and former Vice President Walter Mondale.

It was a record caucus turnout Tuesday. Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party caucus numbers topped 200,000 even as counting continued Wednesday. About 63,000 Republicans attended their meetings.

In both cases, twice as many turned out as predicted and more than in any previous caucus.

Some political leaders expected talk of a primary even Tuesday night.

Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez predicted the unexpectedly high turnout and some delays in voting would lead to that discussion.

"It's worth talking about all ideas," Melendez said, adding Minnesota only has held caucuses since the 1950s. "Everything should be on the table."

Melendez said turnout Tuesday showed "that there's a point at which the system gets very stressed, and no amount of preparation can change that."

"It's not a question of not being ready, it's a question of not having the capacity," he said.


While he and state Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey worked together to promote the caucuses, they disagreed over whether Minnesota should even consider switching to a daylong presidential primary vote.

"When caucus turnout was very, very low if we weren't going to change then to go to a primary why would we go now when the caucus process has proven that it will work if we have enough publicity and enough interesting races to drive people out?" Carey asked.

The overflow crowds gathered at some caucus locations represent "a logistics problem we can deal with in the future if we know this is going to happen," Carey said.

Also, not every future presidential contest will have the interest of the 2008 race, he said.

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