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Wendy Reuer, Published February 15 2012

Santorum says North Dakota to play pivotal role in primary

FARGO – Hundreds flocked to Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s two stops in North Dakota, where he stressed an opposition to big federal government and support of the state’s oil industry.

The Pennsylvania senator, clad in jeans and cowboy boots, drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 1,000 at the Fargo Holiday Inn, where he was twice glitter-bombed as he made his way to the stage. Glitter bombing is an act of protest in which activists throw glitter on public figures.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he has invited all four “major presidential candidates” to North Dakota, and Santorum was the first to accept. Dalrymple said the federal government needs to look no further than his home state to see how to prosper in difficult economic times.

Santorum – who won Minnesota’s straw polls last week – said North Dakota’s March 6 caucus will play a pivotal role in the nation’s primary election.

While Santorum drew applause for touting his ability to bust big government if elected and how he would use his Christian faith as a guidepost for leadership, it was a University of North Dakota hockey jersey that drew the biggest round of frenzied cheers from the crowd.

A gift presented to him from North Dakota Public Services Commissioner Kevin Cramer, Santorum held up the Sioux jersey and said, “I sort of like that logo. What do you think?”

During Santorum’s hour- and-a-half speech, he made repeated reference to doing away with “Obamacare,” or the Affordable Health Care Act.

“Once a country has socialized medicine, you cut the heart and soul out of America. We cannot let that happen,” Santorum said. “And the only way to not let that happen is if we defeat Barack Obama in this next election.”

The crowd asked Santorum to back up his promises to cut federal spending and rein in mandates implemented by the current administration with examples.

Santorum’s first response was a pledge to eliminate federal education funding and repeal No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind is a 2001 testing and standards based education reform act proposed by Republican President George W. Bush. It has drawn heavy bipartisan criticism from educators and lawmakers since.

New York Mills, Minn., resident Arles Kumpula wanted to know what kind of jobs Santorum planned to create for soldiers returning from service.

“No. 1, I oppose President Obama’s cuts in the military,” Santorum said. “Again, that will be one of the big differences you will see between me and, frankly, the other (Republican) candidates that say defense is on the chopping block. It is not.”

Fargo resident Jon Weiss said he didn’t attend Wednesday’s Santorum event as a supporter. But, after hearing Santorum speak, Weiss said Santorum will “more than likely” get his vote.

“Santorum not only addressed the issues North Dakota is facing but those issues the U.S. faces,” Weiss said.

Earlier in the day Santorum and his campaign – which included two of his children, John, 19, and Elizabeth, 20 – toured the Oil Patch and stopped into the heart of Bakken country, Tioga.

“On day one, we will sign the order to begin the commencement of the production of the Keystone Pipeline,” Santorum said there.

Santorum also said North Dakotans won’t have to worry about a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing if he’s elected president. Hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, is used to capture oil from shale stone deposits deep in the Bakken.

Prior to the town hall meeting in the school, Santorum held a roundtable discussion on energy at the Target Logistics man camp near Tioga.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, asked what Santorum would do for industries of all types that are facing new regulations from the Obama administration.

“We are just being pounded with new regulations,” Ness said.

Santorum said he would repeal or replace all of Obama’s regulations and allow decisions to be made at the state level.

Visiting North Dakota oil country created some challenges for the campaign.

Santorum told the Williston mayor he wanted to stay there, but they couldn’t find hotel rooms. A campaign staff member spent the night in the Tioga radio station to do advance work for the stop.

Jeff Zarling, president of DAWA Solutions Group in Williston, said he meets with a lot of potential investors who are worried about the uncertainty of a possible moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

“They want to know how long this is going to last,” Zarling said.

Alison Kelly, communications director for the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, said it’s oversimplifying the issue to say Obama is standing in the way of oil production.

“He oversimplifies an issue in order to grab votes,” Kelly said.

Forum Communications Co. reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this story. Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530