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After all, he explains, there is no real framework limiting the number of viable parties to two. His guest agreed.

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A quiet caucus night for the Independence Party in Richfield

"There isn't somebody presenting a coherent picture of where an Independence Party person stands. And I think that is a detriment to their organization, not that their positions don't have merit," Rublein said.

At the same time, that lack of a centralized message may prevent the IP from gaining power in Minnesota, posited Tom Rublein, associate chair for DFL Senate District 50, which covers parts of Richfield and Bloomington.

to an IP caucus venue in Minneapolis, the doors were locked. When he finally did get into the school, he was told he wasn't on the facility's schedule, although he would eventually secure a meeting location in the building.

Another year, the IP was scheduled to convene in the Richfield High School band room, only to be relegated to the choir room when band members showed up for their practice, Gordon recounted.

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"I kind of wanted to see what the Independence Party looked like," said Carroll, 47.

The IP's greater emphasis on its online caucus was another factor in attendance this year, according to Joseph Koch, IP chair for Congressional District 5.

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Also, the majority of those caucusgoers answered "yes" to the question asking if they support new mines in Minnesota when the mining company has received all governmental and environmental approvals.

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He was not encouraged by the sight of the empty, neatly arranged chairs gracing the classroom sized space.

and so far, things had gone off without a hitch for the Independence Party's Richfield caucus Tuesday, Feb. 4.

Things hadn't been so easy in past years. One year when Hanson arrived Nike Uptempo Black Grey White Mens

Hanson noted he expected a low turnout because it is not a presidential election year and because no IP candidates have announced candidacy for the governor or state Legislature. But in 10 years convening IP caucuses, there had never been a time when no precinct residents arrived. The numbers usually fluctuate between 5 and 20, he said.

Carroll, who has caucused both Republican and Democrat, was not entirely an IP newcomer; he volunteered for IP candidate Tom Horner's gubernatorial campaign four years ago.

Horner received 12 percent of the gubernatorial vote during the last election, a share that came up short despite endorsements from several major newspapers and political figures on both sides of the aisle.

Turnout at other Richfield caucuses varied widely as some of the most politically engaged members of the electorate gathered in classrooms, cafeterias and libraries to select delegates for conventions, vote on resolutions for party platforms, and discuss the issues they deem most critical.

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But the proceedings at the Richfield IP caucus had no hiccups this year, in part because no one showed up. That is, aside from one caucusgoer who arrived at the wrong venue.

One way to get a better foothold, Koch said, is to engage party members at the nonpartisan city level, which can serve as a stepping stone to state office. So he was encouraged when two IP members Jon Oleson and Dwayne Lowman were elected to the Bloomington City Council last year.

Horner's run in 2010 was the latest in a string of relatively strong showings for IP gubernatorial candidates over the last decade plus, a stretch that began when Jesse Nike Air Uptempo Volt For Sale Ventura won election in 1998. In 2002, Nike Uptempo Sensation

Joining Hanson in this spirit was the wayward John Carroll, who showed up to the library's meeting room despite being outside the range of his home precinct in south Minneapolis.

"What the two parties have done successfully is convince the electorate that there are only two choices," Hanson lamented.

"I think we need a strong third party," Carroll said.

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South Minneapolis resident John Carroll, left, was at the wrong location for his caucus Tuesday, Feb. 4. Nevertheless, he had his share of questions for Gordon Hanson, who convened the caucus at Augsburg Park Library in Richfield. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)

The questions fall on a political spectrum where the IP has few strictly defined party lines, Hanson explained.

said of the turnout as he engaged Hanson in a series of questions. One of those questions was, "Does it mean anything that no one's here?"

In terms of citizens' opportunity to get involved with their party, the answer is no, Gordon replied. People still have the chance to grab a spot as an IP delegate and they can still caucus online, Hanson explained.

Nevertheless, the Independence Party's Richfield caucus, including both Senate District 50 and 63, was one of several gatherings scheduled that night as this year's campaign season got underway.

While Horner and Penny enjoyed a healthy helping of support during their campaigns, they were not able to fully capitalize at the polls during the moment of truth. That is the frustration for those like Hanson, working on the grassroots level to get more third party traction.

Carroll's values fall in the gray area occupied by the IP, where fiscal conservatism meets social progressivism. In straw polls, the Independence Party asked caucusgoers whether the minimum wage in Minnesota should be raised from $6.15 per hour to $7.50, or to $9.50, or not at all. Out of 210 people attending IP caucuses throughout the state, the highest option was the most heavily favored.

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"That's the thing about the Independence Party: They are truly independent," he said.

"This is a very smooth night so far," said Gordon Hanson, who had arrived at Augsburg Library to convene the caucus.

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Tim Penny would receive 16 percent of the vote in a race between Republican Tim Pawlenty and Democrat Roger Moe, a contest that seemed closer than the final result during the heat of the race.

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