All but unnoticed, Minnesota holds a vote Tuesday, too

On Tuesday, while reporters and TV cameras will be focusing on the New Hampshire presidential primary, people in Fergus Falls, Mankato, and other cities and towns 1,000 or so miles to the west also will be casting votes -- in the Minnesota caucuses.

The difference is, in Minnesota almost nobody seems to be paying attention, despite the fact that far more delegates are at stake there than in the nationally heralded New Hampshire voting.

"Even the local papers are more interested in New Hampshire than in Minnesota ," grumbles Tom Tripp, spokesman for George Bush's campaign in the Gopher State.

Like voters in Maine and, before that, Iowa, those in Minnesota will begin the process that eventually will select 75 delegates to the Democratic National Convention and 34 delegates to the Republican National Convention. In fact, Minnesota has almost four times as many Democratic delegates as New Hampshire, which has 19. New Hampshire also has fewer GOP delegates -- 22.

If the general public is not paying much attention to the Minnesota caucuses, however, several of the candidates are.

Chief Carter surrogate, Vice-President Walter Mondale, has made several appearances in his home state, hoping to translate into votes the President's commanding 34-point lead over Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in the latest Minnesota poll, taken in December by the Minneapolis Tribune.

According to Albert Eisele, the Vice-President's press secretary, "Our effort is to identify about 35,000 people who strongly support President Carter and get them out to the caucuses."

As for the Kennedy camp, spokesman Liz McPike says, "President Carter will win overwhelmingly on the 26th. But at the end of the delegate-selection process, if we could get one-third of the delegates [to the national convention] , that would be good."

California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.'s campaign has been almost nonexistent in Minnesota, according to political observers. Some suggest that he had bid his supporters to go to the caucuses uncommitted, as he did in Iowa.

As for the Republicans, the picture is less clear. A minnesota poll covering GOP candidates also was taken by the Minneapolis Tribune in December. At that time, Ronald Reagan was the clear favorite among voters.

"But things have been happening fast since then," says a Tribune spokesman, referring to the Bush wins in Iowa and Puerto Rico. Thus, the newspaper decided not to publish the results of the GOP tally because it felt they would no longer accurately reflect voter sentiment.

Spokesmen for five of the Republican presidential campaign organizations in the state suggest that Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush will be battling for first place. Third place is expected to go either to former Texas Gov. John B. Connally or to Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee. These assessments are based on the telephone canvassing that each campaign has been doing in order to identify its supporters.

In searching for those supporters, campaign workers are increasingly concerned about the large number of people who may be going to the caucuses uncommitted to any candidate.

Says Iris Saunderson, a campaign worker for Mr. Bush: "In my congressional district, there were an awful lot of people undecided. So you'll see a lot of these people coming out of the caucuses [and going to the county convention, the next tier in the delegate-selection process]."

The large uncommitted vote, observers say, represents voters who may have no preference for a presidential candidate and who in other states would stay home on caucus night, but who will turn out to support candidates for state, local, or congressional offices. Or, the voter may come to register an opinion on volatile issues such as abortion or gun control.

As a result, published caucus results may distort the final delegate count.

"In 1976, Hubert Humphrey got 38 percent of the vote at the precinct caucuses ," Mr. Eisele says. "About 51 percent went uncommitted. But at the national convention, he would up with 74 percent of the state's delegates."

As Mr. Eisele's example suggests, there will be a lot of wooing of uncommitted delegates after Feb. 26.

Even so, several campaigners underscore the importance of doing well in Minnesota, even though the day's resuits will not be immediately known to the public. Both the Carter and Bush campaigns will monitor key precincts to give them an indication of where they stand after the caucuses are over.

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