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'First Dude,' Todd Palin, to visit Duluth

Todd Palin, the husband of Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is slated to be at Duluth's Gander Mountain store Thursday to bolster local support for his wife and John McCain.

The 2 p.m. rally featuring Alaska's self-proclaimed "First Dude" is organized by the McCain campaign and motorized recreation enthusiasts.

"Todd Palin visiting is getting a huge buzz. The phone calls and e-mails are really going around among the Republican activists in town," said Carinda Horton of Duluth, a GOP activist and local McCain campaign official. "It's going to be a big deal. I think it's going to be a fantastic crowd."

Palin is expected to visit Grand Rapids at 4 p.m. and Bemidji at 6:30 p.m. On Friday, he's scheduled to appear in Thief River Falls, where he'll tour the Arctic Cat snowmobile factory. Accompanying him is Scott Davis, Palin's snowmobile racing partner and a native of Grand Rapids. The two are avid long-distance snowmobile racers who run on Arctic Cat snowmobiles.

Palin's appearance comes less than a week after the release of an Alaska legislative investigator's report on the so-called "Troopergate" scandal in which the Palins are accused of using their influence to try to remove Sarah Palin's former brother-in-law from his state trooper job. The report found Sarah Palin abused her power as governor but broke no state laws, and that Todd Palin played a prominent part in the unsuccessful lobbying for the trooper's firing.

Nevertheless, with fewer than three weeks left in the campaign, Todd Palin is the highest political celebrity scheduled to appear in the Northland, unlike in 2004, when the presidential and vice presidential candidates of both parties all campaigned here.

Republicans hope the event will kindle support among conservative voters who support gun rights and use ATVs and snowmobiles but who have voted Democratic in the past.

"He's also a union member in addition to being an outdoor guy," said Tom Steward, McCain's Minnesota campaign spokesman in announcing the visit. Todd Palin was stumping for similar votes in Maine and New Hampshire over the weekend.

The Sportsmen for McCain group held a similar rally but without a star attraction at Duluth's Gander Mountain store last week, drawing an estimated 300 supporters, Horton said.

Despite support from some Northland motorized recreation and firearms enthusiasts, not all outdoor enthusiasts have bought into the Republican effort in recent years. And it probably will be an uphill climb for the McCain-Palin ticket to make much progress in Northeastern Minnesota, an area Democrats have carried for more than half a century.

In 2004, despite campaign visits by both George Bush and Dick Cheney to Duluth, and despite strong endorsements by the NRA and motor recreation activists for Bush, Democrat John Kerry won in St. Louis County by a 65.2 percent to 33.5 percent margin over Bush. That's even better than Al Gore's 59.8 percent to 33 percent margin over Bush in 2000 in St. Louis County.