WDAY: The News Leader

Published March 06, 2012, 08:49 PM

Santorum Wins North Dakota GOP Caucuses

Despite a final in-person pitch from libertarian Ron Paul, it was former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum who took home the most votes in North Dakota’s statewide Republican caucuses.

By: Kristin M. Daum, Forum Communications

Despite a final in-person pitch from libertarian Ron Paul, it was former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum who took home the most votes in North Dakota’s statewide Republican caucuses.

Santorum easily claimed victory here on “Super Tuesday,” having won the most support in the state’s populated areas, including Bismarck and most of Fargo.

As of press time, 68 percent of the statewide districts had reported in incomplete and unofficial results.

With 32 of 47 legislative districts reporting, Santorum led with 37.7 percent of the statewide vote.

Paul followed with 29.5 percent, edging out Romney, who had 25.2 percent. Newt Gingrich trailed with 7.6 percent of the vote.

Santorum also won several districts in the Oil Patch and rural counties in southern and northeastern North Dakota.

Paul won a few Fargo districts and a rural district north of Rugby – falling far short of his own expectations that North Dakota would be the first state he’d win in the primary race.

That optimism was marked by Paul’s appearance Tuesday evening at the Fargo caucus.

The conservative principles of limited government and personal liberty dominated his address to enthusiastic caucus-goers.

“The government is designed to protect our liberties and nothing else,” Paul said to a roar of cheers, whistles and applause from hundreds gathered at the Ramada Plaza Suites.

Paul touched on the economy, foreign wars and federal spending – all while advocating for less power in the federal government.

“We need much more openness of government and much more protection of our privacy,” Paul said. “Those who accuse us of going backwards are going backwards toward tyranny and we don’t need to go in that direction. Thank you for joining me tonight in that effort to restore liberty.”

Paul, a conservative libertarian, said both the Democratic and Republican parties are to blame for the nation’s fiscal problems. If elected, Paul said in his first year in office he would “cut the budget in real terms by $1 trillion.”

“I’m optimistic to believe we can turn this around, but we have to cut the spending,” Paul said.

Paul took more than twice the amount of time to speak than supporters for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who were given only 10 minutes to lobby for their chosen candidate before Paul took the stage.

After Paul’s speech, North Dakota Republican Party Executive Director Anthony Reedy explained that they’d asked Paul to keep it short, but “we were hesitant to cut him off.”

“If any of the other presidential candidates had come here, we would’ve shown them the same respect,” Reedy said.

Audience members – the majority of whom passionately supported Paul – booed the Romney and Santorum speakers and drowned them out at times by talking over them.

The show of disrespect prompted Paul’s deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari to ask the crowd to “be polite” to the other speakers and let them have their say.

Some caucus-goers came from as far as Lisbon and Grand Forks to vote and hear Paul speak rather than vote in their home districts.

Casselton resident Kirk Rosin cast his caucus vote for Santorum, saying he was committed after the candidate’s visit to Fargo last month.

“I really felt his values and his positions matched what I felt was important,” Rosin said, referencing Santorum’s social conservatism.

North Dakota State University students Davin Loegering, Zechariah Andersen and Benjamin Bechtold were among the youth supporters out in force to vote for Paul in Fargo.

Loegering said he liked Paul’s libertarian proposals and his dedication to adhering to the U.S. Constitution.

“A lot of his ideas seem radical, but it’s at a time when radical ideas are needed,” Loegering said.

He said so far Paul has been “a footnote” in the national media behind the more prominent frontrunners, Romney and Santorum.

He said a North Dakota victory for Paul would be an “eye-opener” for the rest of the country about Paul’s ability to unseat Democratic President Barack Obama in November.

Inside the caucus room, the 10 Fargo-area districts remained busy throughout the evening with a consistent stream of voters.

After each ballot was submitted, voters were required to press their thumbs on an ink pad, which would prevent them from casting more than one ballot.

Voting for the North Dakota caucuses closed at 8 p.m. central time; however, because of the state’s two time zones, some western districts didn’t finish voting until 9 p.m. central.

North Dakota GOP Chairman Stan Stein said he expected a record turnout throughout the state.

“With the good weather and extra interest this year, I’m thinking we could hit 12,000 (statewide),” Stein said.

The proportionality of Tuesday’s results will be decided at the state GOP convention later this month.

However, North Dakota’s caucus is non-binding, meaning the state’s 28 delegates at the national convention don’t have to vote in line with tonight’s results.

Stein said, though, the state’s delegates will be asked to “use this as a guideline for their voting.”