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Published March 08 2012

Forum editorial: Hear those GOP teeth a-grinding

Anyone who doubted a rift (chasm?) in the North Dakota Republican Party might want to peruse Super Tuesday’s results. A faction of the party led by former party executive Gary Emineth mobilized its troops for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum better than did supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Santorum won North Dakota with nearly 40 percent of the caucus votes.

Emineth is Santorum’s lead man in North Dakota and, coincidentally, campaign manager for Kevin Cramer, the Public Service commissioner who dismissed his party’s nomination process and is going right to the June primary, where he will challenge the party’s endorsed candidate for the state’s lone U.S. House seat. See a pattern here?

The Cramer/Emineth/tea party (and now Santorum?) wing of the party flexed its muscles Tuesday and muscled aside the establishment’s candidate, Romney. Party types can deny it all they want, but while Cramer’s upstarts were cheering, the other sound rumbling across the political landscape was the gnashing of party regulars’ teeth.

Santorum fans should be celebrating, but the high-fives should not get too high. After all, of the 11,349 votes counted, Santorum scored only about 4,500; the majority went to the other three candidates. And while the turnout was a record for Republican caucuses, it’s unimpressive when compared to the 2008 Democratic caucus turnout of about 19,000, when Barack Obama alone won more than 11,600 votes. Hillary Clinton got slightly more than 6,900. If there is an enthusiasm gap among Republicans this year, the vote comparison to 2008 confirms it. In a state where far more voters identify themselves as Republicans than Democrats, and where Republicans own all but two state and federal offices and control the Legislature, caucus numbers should be better.

The relatively low Republican participation in North Dakota this year mirrors the dissatisfaction and divisions afflicting Republicans across the county regarding their four contenders. More to the point, the divisive elements at play on the national scene appear to have found a fertile playground in North Dakota.

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

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