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Obama visit sparks N.D. red, blue debate

FARGO -- Naomi Franek knows North Dakota has been a "red" state when it comes to presidential elections.

But something tells her a chromatic shift is imminent.

"I think we're really ready for a change," said the Fargo woman as she waited for the Democratic contender for the White House, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to speak in north Fargo Thursday afternoon.

"Our daughter doesn't have health insurance and she's got a master's (degree) in music," Franek said.

"We will educate our children, but why our country doesn't think people deserve health insurance...that's a big thing. I think he (Obama) will fight for it," Franek said.

If the Illinois senator takes North Dakota, it will be the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has done so in 44 years and the sixth time it has happened in the 30 presidential elections since North Dakota gained statehood.

Democratic chances are better now than they have been in a long time, said Phil Harmeson, a University of North Dakota vice president known for his political analysis.

Still, Harmeson said, November is a long ways off and "24 hours in politics is an eternity."

Gary Emineth, North Dakota Republican Party chairman, said the GOP welcomes Obama visits because, according to Emineth, statements he makes will show him to be "out of step" with the state.

Emineth said questions raised about a mortgage Obama obtained for his home in Chicago will make North Dakotans think twice about supporting him.

Robert "Mike" Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Obama presents himself as a new kind of politician, but Duncan said Obama has re-fused to denounce supporters who have attacked the character of his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.

"I think it (Obama's campaign) is going to drive the North Dakota voter to the Republican side, as they have historically been since 1964," said Emineth.

David Strauss, chairman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, said Obama "is going to make history in 2008."

Strauss said any attempt to make political hay out of Obama's mortgage is nitpicking.

"I don't think the terms on his mortgage will have anything to do with the outcome of the election in North Dakota," said Strauss.

"My mortgage rate is similar to what he's getting and I went to the loan officer at Gate City," said Strauss, who added that a senator from Illinois is a better fit for North Dakota than a senator from Arizona.

"The critical variable here is that the Obama campaign is actually choosing to run a campaign in North Dakota," said Strauss.

Emineth said McCain has been invited to visit, but has yet to schedule a trip to North Dakota.

"The request is out there," he said. "I guess we'll see how the election unfolds."

The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.