MINNEAPOLIS - Paul Ryan was greeted at an airplane hangar here by one of the largest crowds he has drawn on his own since joining the campaign. Hopping off the plane with his family and walking down a long runway - while his kids ran - he seemed genuinely surprised by the audience. The campaign put the crowd at 6,500, including the people who couldn't fit inside.
"I've got a question: Minnesota, are you going to help us win this election?," Ryan asked the crowd, which was strikingly different from other recent audiences in both size and enthusiasm. "Man, I've got to say, I'm a Wisconsin guy, basically like your next door neighbor."
This was Ryan's first rally in Minnesota, though he has had a fundraiser here and last week he and his wife crossed the border from Wisconsin to have dinner in the Twin Cities. That was seen as more of a move to irk the Obama campaign than anything else.
The Romney campaign sees an opportunity here, though Minnesota hasn't gone red in a presidential race since 1972. Both campaigns are advertising here and the GOP ticket says it can "expand the map" here, making this event much like Ryan's stop Saturday in Pennsylvania.
The Obama campaign still leads here, with polls giving the president between a three and seven point advantage, but ABC News moved Minnesota just last week from "safe" Obama to "leaning" Obama. President Clinton campaigned for Obama in Minneapolis last week as well.
Although its historically gone blue, Minnesota does have some conservative pockets. As a reminder of that, former presidential candidate and U.S. House member Rep. Michele Bachmann stood right by the stage, beaming at Ryan throughout his speech. Rick Santorum, also seen as more conservative than Romney, won the primary here in February.
The crowd interrupted Ryan's speech with deafening chants of "two more years!" and in his remarks he buttered up the crowd, saying he gets mistaken for a Minnesotan frequently. He said he answers, "'No I'm from Wisconsin, close. We're the Catholic deer hunters, they are the Lutheran deer hunters.'"
There was at least one sign that read "Deer Hunters for Ryan," waved by a member of the crowd.
Ryan said that even though he was in the last 48-hour final sprint of his vice presidential candidacy, he was able to watch a an ice fishing show this morning, playing right to the crowd.
"I've got a 15-year-old jiffy power auger and I was taking a look at these brand new ice fishing machines and I gotta tell you after this election I've got to look at a new one of those things," Ryan said, adding that he spent a summer working in Eden Prairie, outside of Minneapolis.
"This is God's country when you combine Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is great to be home. This is fantastic," Ryan said.
As both Romney and Ryan have been doing on the stump, he stressed bipartisanship, aiming for Minnesotans' independent streak.
"Look, Minnesota and Wisconsin, Wisconsinites and Minnesotans, we are bipartisan states, we know you have to work with people across the aisle because they're with us, they're part of us, they're in our own families," said Ryan, standing in front of a huge "Minnesota for Romney" sign. "That's what it's like where we come from, it's also what it's like where Mitt Romney comes from."
Democrats strongly object when Ryan or Romney call themselves eager to work with members of the other party, saying Ryan, the House budget chairman, does not work across the aisle in Congress and Romney didn't do it when he was governor of Massachusetts.
Ryan gave his closing pitch to the boisterous crowd, asking them to give his ticket a win because "we are in this together." It's a win they need as Ohio looks harder for their ticket.
"Everybody you know that may have thought hope and change was good, talk to them," Ryan said. "You know this is a critical election. You know it's a critical moment. We can't handle four more years of this, and Minnesota, work with us. Join with us."
Both campaigns are running ads here, although it's important to note that some of the media markets do bleed into toss-up Wisconsin. According to ad tracking sources, the Obama campaign has spent over $500,000. The Romney campaign's buy is much more modest, only between $30,000 and $50,000. However, conservative superPACS are spending money on Romney's behalf. Pro-Romney superPAC the American Future Fund has spent $3 million here on ads and another $145,000 on radio ads and direct mail, while another pro-Romney superPAC, Restore Our Future, is also on the air here with a $1.1 million buy.
Ryan's next stop is Colorado, his fourth stop today on a whirlwind dash to Tuesday.