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Published March 03 2012

Forum editorial: Still time for Newt to visit ND

By any fair measure, the 2012 Republican presidential primary/caucus season has been a modest success for North Dakota. Three of the four candidates have visited the state, the latest being former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was in Fargo on Friday morning. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum swung through the state a few days ago on an itinerary that included a stop in the booming Bakken play in oil country. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has a small but dedicated following in North Dakota, has been in the state twice.

No word if former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich will put North Dakota on his schedule between now and Super Tuesday. There’s still time, and North Dakota Republicans would welcome him.

North Dakota is among the Super Tuesday states holding caucuses and primaries this week. With 28 delegates up for grabs, North Dakota and other smaller states are important because the close race means every delegate matters. By some counts (the delegate counting process is different in every state), Romney is far ahead. Several hundred delegates are at stake Tuesday, so the gap could shrink as Southern states that might favor Georgian Gingrich or religious conservative Santorum tilt away from Romney.

But whatever the outcome Tuesday, three of four of the GOP’s presidential hopefuls took time to make their pitches in North Dakota. And a big reason has to be that it’s good politics for Republican candidates to talk up a Republican-controlled state that is prospering.

It’s not often four serious contenders are still standing at this stage of the primary/caucus process. And if Gingrich resurrects himself among Southern states on Super Tuesday, the recent Santorum vs. Romney drama will change again.

Conventional wisdom says Romney’s money and organization will, in the end, be too much for Gingrich or Santorum to overcome. After all, the latter candidates are still alive only because each of them has a sugar daddy or two willing to dump millions into super PACs aligned with the candidates. Romney, on the other hand, has a deep and broad base of support and access to his own considerable wealth.

Finally, no candidate has a lock on North Dakota’s 28 delegates. As a caucus state, representatives of the four will make pitches to caucus-goers Tuesday evening, hoping to win favor for their man.

So while it was great for the candidates to campaign in the state, the makeup of the caucus crowds will determine who among them wins the state’s delegates. And given the volatility and fickleness of Republicans this year, grass-roots passion and enthusiasm – not tradition or the establishment – likely will carry the day.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.