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Published March 06 2012

North Dakota’s GOP preps for today's ‘Super Tuesday'

FARGO – Anticipating a national spotlight today, North Dakota Republicans want to make sure their presidential caucuses go off without a hitch.

Ballot blunders in Iowa and Maine earlier this year offered harsh lessons in patience and accuracy – principles North Dakota’s Republican Party is taking to heart tonight.

“We’re not going to make those mistakes in North Dakota,” state Republican spokesman Matt Becker said. “We want to make sure that things are run right and that results come up right. Whether it takes us a little longer is a secondary issue.”

North Dakota and nine other states hold caucuses or primaries today on “Super Tuesday” that will decide the fate of 437 delegates in the GOP presidential race.

But North Dakota won’t have to fight for attention amid the crowd of states.

As a traditionally red state with an economic boom that’s the envy of the nation, North Dakota was already guaranteed a prime spot on the national stage. That relevance is especially amplified because one of the four contenders plans to spend the caucus night in Fargo.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul will address caucus-goers when the night’s activities begin at 5:30 and he’s likely to stay as the results come in, Becker said.

The caucuses statewide are from 5:30 to 8, with results expected to trickle in starting at 9.

Behind the scenes, North Dakota Republicans said they’ve been preparing for weeks to ensure the caucuses go smoothly.

Pre-caucus visits from Paul, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney helped party leaders gauge expectations for the main event, Becker said.

Newt Gingrich was the only contender not to visit North Dakota yet. He’s focused today on winning delegate support from the South, but has vowed to visit the state at some point in his campaign.

GOP officials expect tonight’s participation to top 10,000, comfortably surpassing previous caucus turnouts in North Dakota.

“We’ve been gearing up for a record turnout, and we’ve been preparing all our caucus chairs for what could be a huge night for the party,” Becker said.

State GOP caucuses drew 9,785 participants in 2008 and 9,100 in 2000.

Democrats will not hold a caucus this year because President Barack Obama is the party’s presumptive nominee.

Across the country, the Republican race among the four candidates has been close.

At times, a margin of only a few votes has decided which candidate received the majority of a state’s delegates.

North Dakota likely won’t be any different.

“We’ll be on our guard to make sure the results come out correctly,” Becker said. “It really could be a close vote. It’s anybody’s game at this point.”

With the help of volunteers, chairmen at each of the state’s 59 caucus sites will be responsible for tabulating their votes when balloting closes at 8.

Ballots will be counted by hand, and the totals will be verified using the number of registration forms submitted at each site, Becker said.

When the results are counted at each event, caucus chairmen will call in their results to the state GOP headquarters in Bismarck.

From there, party officials will publish the totals online throughout the evening, Becker said.

Statewide results might not be available until late tonight because North Dakota is split across two time zones.

Several caucus sites in the western part of the state will run an hour behind.

Heading into Super Tuesday, Romney holds a comfortable lead with 203 delegates, followed by Santorum with 92, Gingrich with 33 and Paul with 25.

Candidates need 1,144 delegates to secure the party’s nomination.

Who receives what proportion of North Dakota’s 28 delegates will be decided at the state GOP convention later this month.

Find your local caucus

Online: Follow Forum reporter Kristen Daum on Twitter – @kristendaum – for updates from the Fargo caucuses tonight, and stay tuned to INFORUM for full coverage and results throughout the evening.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541