WILLISTON, N.D. --- Caucus sites in the Oil Patch are expecting strong turnouts for Super Tuesday today following visits by two Republican candidates and an emphasis on energy policy from all four.
District 1 Republican Chairman Ken Callahan of Williston said recent visits by presidential candidates Rick Santorum to Tioga and Ron Paul to Williston are helping fuel additional interest in the caucus.
"I've gotten a lot of phone calls wondering when the rest of the people are coming," Callahan said.
Mitt Romney visited Fargo last week, but despite spending one-fourth of his time talking about oil and energy, he didn't venture to western North Dakota.
Newt Gingrich is the only one of the four not to visit the state before today. But Gingrich told conservative talk show host Scott Hennen on Monday that he wants to come to North Dakota to do a national energy address.
Gingrich told Hennen that President Barack Obama would see that drilling works if he visited North Dakota.
"As recently as this morning I was talking about the lesson the whole country should learn from North Dakota, and the fact that if we work at it we could actually be energy independent where no American president would ever again bow to a Saudi King and there is no reason we have to accept less than that," Gingrich said in the interview.
Following Santorum's visit to the Oil Patch, he's continued talking about Tioga in his speeches and showed a piece of Bakken shale on national television.
The unprecedented interest in northwestern North Dakota is bound to drive more people from that part of the state out to vote, said Matt Becker, state Republican spokesman.
District 39, with caucus sites in Watford City, Beach, Bowman, Grassy Butte and Hettinger, is expecting a large turnout today, said local party chairman Charles Whitney. He expects to see some independents who may have voted for Democrats in past elections.
The emphasis that the candidates have placed on energy policy resonates with voters in his district, Whitney said.
"Energy has always been a key player in North Dakota's economy," Whitney said. "Washington, unfortunately, has run hot and cold on oil and even colder on coal."
Amy Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch