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Published March 05 2012

Forum editorial: Surprises in store at caucuses?

It’s Republican caucus day in North Dakota – to which most North Dakotans would say “ho-hum.” However, active Republicans and those identifying themselves as Republicans, even though they are not Republicans, are cranked up for what promises to be a very interesting day at caucus sites across the state.

We say some caucus participants are not Republicans in the traditional sense because Texas Congressman Ron Paul, allegedly a Republican, is again bringing his libertarian message to the state today in a renewed bid for a strong showing. Paul, whose appeal among a segment of caucus-goers might prove to be surprisingly strong, is after a share of the state’s 28 delegates. While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remains the delegate-count leader over Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, there is no safe bet on North Dakota’s tilt.

Among establishment Republicans, Romney has the edge. But the state’s Republican establishment is under a mini-siege these days with the defection of a prominent candidate for federal office and a tea party movement that has moved out of the party’s tent. Stir Paul’s eclectic mix of libertarians into the caucus stew, and anything is possible.

That being said, the caucus is a beauty contest. Delegates will be apportioned by the percentage of votes for the several candidates on the ballot. But even when the apportionment is settled and one of the candidates is declared a winner in North Dakota, the “win” is essentially meaningless. The results are not binding, which means at the August national convention, delegates are not required to cast ballots that reflect caucus results.

Still, the flavor of the caucuses – whether they break for Romney or Paul, for example – will reveal just where Republican (libertarian?) intensity lies. If Paul should win – a distinct possibility according to a few Republican insiders – what does that say about the state of the establishment Republican Party? Even if Romney wins by a hair and Paul is a close second, the results could be seen as an indication of a weakened state party.

Also, the Santorum factor cannot be discounted. There are those among Republican voters who are enthralled by the senator’s vision of an American theocracy that is informed by the doctrines of his particular religious persuasion. And Gingrich? Since he hasn’t campaigned in the state, he likely won’t be a significant factor in the caucuses.

No predications in all this. Just speculation. But that’s the kind of primary/caucus season it’s been. The pundits and prognosticators have been consistently wrong. It’s been a campaign of surprises. Who knows? Maybe North Dakota Republicans are in for a surprise today.

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