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Surprise: Primary is Tuesday

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ST. PAUL - Another Minnesota State Fair has come and gone, Republicans ended their national convention and kids are back in school.

So, are you ready for the state's primary election Tuesday?

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If it seems like the election snuck up on you, you're not alone. Even Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Minnesota's top election official, said the election crept up on his office, which was busy in recent weeks with State Fair activities.

"It's just that time of year that other demands are quite high," Ritchie said of why many voters may not even be aware of the primary.

Still, there are ballots to be cast. Voters across the state will narrow down two Minnesota Supreme Court contests; justices Paul Anderson and Lori Gildea each have two opponents in their election bids.

Al Franken will be on the ballot. The comedian and author won the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party endorsement for U.S. Senate, but campaign troubles earlier this year helped bring out six other Democratic Senate hopefuls.

Most are frequent candidates for office and are not running visible campaigns. Franken's only serious challenger may be attorney Priscilla Lord Faris, who said she is challenging Franken because he cannot beat Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

Faris has advertised on radio and television around the state and sought pre-primary debates with Franken. Confident most Democrats support him, Franken has ignored the primary and is targeting Coleman.

Coleman faces a token primary challenger. Jack Shepard is running against Coleman, but is doing so from Italy, where he lives, reportedly to avoid an arson charge in Minnesota.

Perhaps the most competitive statewide primary race is the battle among Independence Party candidates for U.S. Senate. Party-endorsed candidate Stephen Williams faces two key opponents - ex-Sen. Dean Barkley and former party chairman Jack Uldrich - and four others.

Ritchie said the hot Independence Party primary, an intriguing Republican primary between Brian Davis and state Sen. Dick Day in southern Minnesota's 1st Congressional District and a slate of interesting Minnesota House primaries could lead to a higher-than-average turnout. Local races also could draw more voters.

Still, long lines are not predicted.

"Generally speaking if we look historically at past practice we can estimate it will be in or around the 15 percent range," Ritchie said of turnout.

Minnesota has an estimated 3.7 million eligible voters.

Primary turnout may be in the teens, but Ritchie's office is shooting for 80 percent voter participation in the Nov. 4 general election.

Ritchie said his office has been testing voting machines and other equipment and expects a smooth night of primary election returns. "It'll be kind of early and well done."

On his weekly radio show Friday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said people tend to overlook the primary election.

"Turnout's usually pretty low," Pawlenty said, even though there are important races around the state.

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