FARGO – North Dakotans have the chance Tuesday to help decide the Republican Party’s presidential nominee this year – and in a hotly contested race, every delegate matters.
Nine other states join North Dakota in holding their GOP primaries or caucuses on “Super Tuesday,” when the critical support of 437 total delegates will be decided.
Candidates need 1,144 delegates in order to secure the party’s nomination.
North Dakota has 28 delegates to offer Tuesday; it’s not the most at stake but still significant.
That’s the same amount as political hotbeds like Iowa and Nevada, which have already held caucuses, and it’s more delegates than 11 other states have.
Because of North Dakota’s traditional Republican voting habits, the state has a “disproportionately large say in choosing the Republican presidential candidate,” said Eric Raile, assistant political science professor at North Dakota State University.
There’s a catch, though. The results of tomorrow’s caucus aren’t a winner-take-all scenario.
Like other states, North Dakota’s delegates will be doled out proportionally based on the amount of support candidates receive in the state caucus.
The results are also not binding, which means at the national convention in August the 28 delegates are not required to cast ballots that reflect caucus-goers’ support.
That freedom will be especially significant if the party’s nominee isn’t clear by August, which will force a brokered convention.
In the mean time, though, delegates will “be encouraged to vote in proportion to whoever supporters nominated in our caucus,” North Dakota Republican Party spokesman Matt Becker said.
The attraction of North Dakota’s GOP support has been enough to draw three of the four candidates to the state in advance of Super Tuesday – and one of those will return to spend the caucus day in North Dakota.
Rick Santorum and Ron Paul were the first to stump here, but Mitt Romney’s visit to the state last week was enough to declare North Dakota “the second most important caucus state” on Super Tuesday, according to Washington Post analysts.
Paul is also circling back to North Dakota to spend Super Tuesday in Fargo, and possibly Bismarck, the NDGOP announced Sunday evening.
North Dakota’s national importance in the race hasn’t gone unrecognized by state analysts either.
The state has held party caucuses since switching from the primary system after 1996, and that’s made a huge difference in the state’s political relevance.
“The caucuses clearly have increased North Dakota’s visibility,” said Mark Jendrysik, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota.
Jendrysik and Raile said North Dakota’s success during the economic recession – and especially under Republican leaders – has also helped spur its attention among the presidential candidates this year.
Heading into Super Tuesday, Romney holds a comfortable lead on delegates, with 203 allocated in his favor so far. Santorum comes second with 92 delegates. Gingrich and Paul trail the pack having picked up 33 and 25 delegates, respectively.
What is a caucus?
By attending a caucus, North Dakotans have the chance to cast a ballot in favor of one of the Republican Party’s presidential candidates.
The outcome helps determine the nominee who will be on the November ballot against Democratic incumbent Barack Obama.
During a caucus, supporters typically speak on behalf of their chosen candidates, before each participant votes.
Why not a primary?
North Dakota held a one-time presidential primary in February 1996. However, by the late 1990s, state law mandated political parties hold caucuses instead.
A caucus is conducted by and for political parties and costs no public funds. In comparison, a primary is a state election paid for by taxpayers.
This will be the state’s fourth caucus. North Dakota has held them in 2000, 2004 and 2008.
When and where will the caucuses be held?
Republicans are holding caucuses in 59 locations statewide on Tuesday.
Fargo-area districts will meet at the Ramada Plaza Suites, 1635 42nd St. S., Fargo.
Other district locations are available online at www.ndgop.org/caucus.
All caucuses begin at 5:30 p.m. and end at 8 p.m.
Absentee voting is not allowed.
Who can participate?
In order to vote in the caucus, you must be 18 years old by Nov. 6, 2012.
Voters will be required to prove North Dakota residency with a driver’s license or student ID.
Voters must also be affiliated with the Republican Party or intend to vote for the GOP in this election.
Who can I vote for?
The North Dakota Republican Party determined the caucus ballot on Feb. 1.
Caucus-goers will have a choice between Romney, Paul, Santorum and Newt Gingrich. No write-in candidates or uncommitted ballots will be allowed.
When will the results be announced?
Results will be updated beginning at 9 p.m. on the GOP’s website once they are reported and verified at the party’s headquarters.
North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Stan Stein plans to announce the full results of the caucus by about 10 p.m. Tuesday at the Fargo caucus site.