Gingrich surge may put Minnesota in play in GOP battle

8:00 PM, Jan 22, 2012   |    comments
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Candidates Romney, Gingrich, Paul & Santorum

SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- The race for the Republican presidential nomination became more competitive with Newt Gingrich's convincing victory in South Carolina's primary. Front runner Mitt Romney conceded his road to the GOP nomination will be longer, and tougher than originally projected.

At the very least it will extend the nominating battle into February, giving Minnesota's February 7 precinct caucuses more significance.  Romney won Minnesota in 2008's presidential preference primary, running as a more conservative alternative to Sen. John McCain.

This time Romney is being cast in the role of the more establishment Republican, and is facing challenges on the right from Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

"The campaigns are going to want to have a good showing here, and I think all four of the candidates that are still in the race are definitely going to make some play here in Minnesota," Brian McClung, a public affairs consultant who favors Romney, told KARE Sunday.

McClung, who served as deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and has long been involved in Republican politics in Minnesota, said he's impressed with Ron Paul's ground game in the North Star State.

"When I went to the precinct caucuses here four years ago, one of the things I was struck by were the number of Ron Paul supporters," McClung said. "He really has an ardent following here in Minnesota."

He noted that Paul does well in caucus states because, unlike primaries, caucuses require participants to show up at a specific time and stay for hours to work on platform issues.

And Paul has already started running TV ads in Minnesota and Nevada, while deciding not to spend a lot of time in Florida which is the site next primary Jan. 31.

At the same time, however, a victory in Minnesota is hugely symbolic.  There's no direct connection between the straw poll on caucus night and the selection of delegates for the Republican National Convention.

That will be done a congressional district conventions in April and the state convention in May. In recent history all of the delegates line up behind the party's nominee, which is usually already established by the time of the state convention.

"Republican voters are going to look for the candidate who can beat Barack Obama, and who can turn around the economy," McClung remarked, "And that's clearly Mitt Romney."

"I mean this is a guy who has governed in a Democrat state as a conservative, vetoing tax increases, cutting spending, and he has that kind of experience so we know he can win in a tough election like this is going to be."

McClung's recitation of Romney's resume sounded eerily similar to the selling points for Pawlenty, who has campaigned for Romney since leaving the race himself in August.

Twin Cities political consultant Paul Carlson still believes his favorite candidate, Newt Gingrich, can make some headway in Minnesota because of his passion for conservative values.

"The ability that Gingrich has to communicate big ideas has been something I've found very appealing, and he's been able to stand up to attacks," Carlson told KARE. "And with very little campaign apparatus has been able to push through the pack."

Carlson said he believes the Ron Paul contingent in Minnesota, while dedicated and well organized, may have reached its ceiling in terms of growth.  And Romney's weakness, Carlson asserted, involves connecting with people.

"Mitt Romney's campaign has had the same issue in Minnesota that it's had everywhere else, where it's had an enthusiasm gap," Carlson said.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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