Romney in Fargo todayVibrant growth and the nation’s lowest unemployment rate have made North Dakota the beacon in a country still recovering from crippling downtimes.
By: By Kristen M. Daum , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Vibrant growth and the nation’s lowest unemployment rate have made North Dakota the beacon in a country still recovering from crippling downtimes.
Add that to a pivotal election year — when Republicans are all about distinguishing themselves from the status quo — and North Dakota has become a jewel for presidential candidates on the campaign trail.
“North Dakota is doing well; Republicans run it — so the candidates can play up the success of Republican policies here,” said Mark Jendrysik, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s stop in Fargo this morning marks the third GOP candidate visit to North Dakota in as many weeks.
With a small pool of contenders seeking the Republican nomination this year, the candidates’ visits to North Dakota are all the more significant, Jendrysik and other analysts said.
Since North Dakota dropped the primary system after 1996, at least a couple presidential candidates have visited the state before each caucus. But this year, an unprecedented 75 percent of the candidates have personally stumped here in the hopes of earning caucus support on Tuesday.
North Dakota and nine other states will decide on “Super Tuesday” who their delegates will back for the GOP nomination.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have already made campaign pitches in North Dakota.
The only holdout is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who hasn’t yet scheduled a stop here.
His campaign did not return multiple messages from The Forum this week, and North Dakota Republican Party officials said they haven’t heard any plans by Gingrich’s campaign.
With Gingrich’s strength fading quickly in the presidential race, though, it makes sense that he’s focusing his efforts on states he could win — like his native Georgia, which holds its primary also on Tuesday, said Eric Raile, an assistant political science professor at North Dakota State University.
“Gingrich is a long shot at this point, but he needs to do very well in key southern states in order to remain a viable option,” Raile said.
Romney and Santorum lead this year’s hotly contested race to reach the magic number of 1,144 delegates, which will give the victorious candidate the GOP nod against President Obama in November.
With that in mind, North Dakota’s 28 delegates could tip the balance.
“Every vote and delegate seems to count, so it might be worth it to invest in North Dakota,” Jendrysik said, citing 2008’s tight Democratic contest as an example. “Obama gained a lot of credibility by winning a bunch of caucuses that Hillary (Rodham Clinton)’s people ignored.”
North Dakota’s prosperity has previously been a campaign boost for such state-level Republicans as Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg, who were both elected in 2010 on platforms promoting the state’s GOP leadership.
That pitch has elevated to the national stage this year in the presidential race.
“Thanks to our economy and the lowest unemployment in the nation, we're creating jobs,” North Dakota GOP spokesman Matt Becker said. “It’s become a national conversation topic. Even if they're not coming to the state, they’re still talking about us.”
Kristen Daum is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.