MANKATO — The Mankato DFL caucuses of Tuesday were much different than the 2016 version.
Numerous Democrats described the 2016 Mankato DFL caucus as chaotic, frenetic, and just plain frustrating after more than 2,500 people tried to participate. Not as many people showed up to this year's caucus, but DFLers are encouraged by the numbers and energy they saw at both Mankato locations.
"This is more typical of what we see," Rep. Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato, said. "Two years ago was an aberration."
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Almost 300 residents went to Franklin Elementary School and Mankato East High School to talk candidates and issues Tuesday. Local leaders decided to split the caucus into two locations to prevent the sort of difficulties they had in 2016.
DFL leaders expected a drop compared to 2016 — there's no presidential election this year, which usually drives voter participation. But Blue Earth County officials say they're pleased to maintain voter participation among local residents.
More older voters caucused at Franklin, while the voters at Mankato East skewed younger. They debated a variety of issues from education and health care to marijuana legalization and infrastructure.
Out of 282 total votes, 211 voted for local congressman Tim Walz in a gubernatorial straw poll, with 19 votes for state Rep. Erin Murphy and 15 voters who were uncommitted. Some voters were elected as delegates to a county DFL convention set for next month, the start of a process to send delegates to the Minnesota DFL's state convention in Rochester in June.
Yet caucus-goers say they largely came to show support for the DFL and to participate in the U.S. democratic process.
"Democracy works best when we participate," Anna Good, a lifelong Democrat, said.
Several voters say they support Walz's campaign for governor, in part because he has rural connections and can reach across party lines.
Ally Peters, a political science major at Luther College in Iowa, said she's likely to vote for Walz after meeting him in high school. But she felt it was more important for people to get involved and vote in the upcoming election.
"Without this process, we don't have a voice in the decisions that are being made," Peters said. "This is our ability to insert ourselves into that process."
Sophia Hoiseth, a Minnesota State University student, is a Walz campaign volunteer who supports Walz and Rep. Peggy Flanagan for their views on education and LGBT issues, among other things.
"I think that they represent what our state looks like, and the ideals of our state that are important to me," Hoiseth said. "I think Walz has done an incredible job representing this district in Congress and I think that Peggy just knows a lot about issues that are really important."
MSU College Democrats President Sean Fischer has paid more attention to U.S. House candidates, since a new representative will be elected this year. He's leaning toward former state Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, in part because of her in-depth explanation of her stance on health care reform. Yet Fischer also thinks North Mankato resident Dan Feehan, himself a former Obama administration defense official, brings credibility as a veteran who can attract moderate voters.
Few people discussed issues they had with a GOP-controlled Congress or with Republican President Donald Trump. MSU student Emma Fuhrman said she decided to come to the DFL caucus in large part because she was dissatisfied with the government and wanted to change its representation.
"You have to start small, and then grow larger," she said. "You have to make a difference in your community."
Local DFL officials have stressed running on issues rather than against the GOP this year, according to 1st Congressional District DFL Vice-Chairman Jim Hepworth.
"Everybody that's at the DFL caucuses are looking for our best candidate," Hepworth said. "That will play out until we get to either the congressional district or the state convention."