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Ryan Johnson, Grand Forks Herald , Published March 04 2012

Liberal blog: Punk the North Dakota GOP caucus

GRAND FORKS - A liberal blog is calling for Democrats in North Dakota and other states with open primaries or caucuses to add some “hilarity” to the Republican presidential race.

Daily Kos announced “Operation Hilarity” on Feb. 15, urging Democrats and independents to turn out at Republican primaries and caucuses to vote for Rick Santorum. The goal, according to the blog, is to drag out the presidential race between Santorum and Mitt Romney, which they said will hurt the eventual candidate and boost Democratic President Barack Obama’s chances of re-election.

And Daily Kos took credit for a surprising statistic from the Michigan Republican primary on Feb. 28 — exit polling showed 9 percent of primary voters were Democrats, and of those, 53 percent voted for Santorum while just 18 percent backed Romney.

The blog is now targeting North Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont, three of the 10 states that will hold their presidential preference caucuses or primaries on Super Tuesday this week.

But Mark Jendrysik, professor and chairman of UND’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration, said it seems “unlikely” this effort will make much of an impact in North Dakota, even if the state does have a “very open” caucus.

“Those kinds of operations are pretty overrated,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to mobilize a large group of Democrats to go and mess with the Republicans.”

North Dakota’s Republican caucus will begin at 5:30 p.m. and end at 8 p.m. across the state.

North Dakota Democratic-NPL spokeswoman Alison Kelly said the party is not working to support “Operation Hilarity,” and party officials had not heard of any movement in the state to affect the Republican caucus Tuesday.

“We certainly would have nothing to do with it if it would occur,” she said. “It could be interesting to see if it happens organically, but there’s no one in this state that’s planning it as far as I know.”

North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Stan Stein said he also had not heard of any effort to mobilize Democrats to vote in the upcoming caucus.

Stein said any North Dakota resident who will be 18 or older on Election Day is able to vote in the state’s caucus. But participants also need to sign a registration form that declares a past affiliation with the Republican Party or a plan to do so in the next election, he said.

“That would be one avenue we’ve taken to try to guide the process,” he said. “But as far as being a threat from the Democratic side, I would doubt it.”

Daily Kos said last week that although Romney beat Santorum in Michigan 41 to 38 percent, the boost of Democratic votes for Santorum helped him pick up nearly as many delegates as Romney.

But Jendrysik said that analysis is “blown out of proportion” by the blog.

“You might as well take credit when no one can prove the opposite,” he said.

Michigan’s electorate on Feb. 28 marked the highest proportion of self-identified Democrats of any 2012 presidential caucus or primary to date. But the state has recorded more Democrats at its primary in the recent past, including 17 percent of the total electorate in 2000.

Jendrysik said North Dakota’s “civility” in politics probably would prevent “Operation Hilarity” from appealing to many people in the state.

“It doesn’t really seem like North Dakota Democrats are going to play that sort of game, or that it even works,” he said.

Stein said the North Dakota Republican Party will be “mindful” of Daily Kos’ call to Democrats on Tuesday while the party operates more than 60 caucus sites around the state.

“I have a lot of confidence in the people of North Dakota that this will be handled right,” he said.