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Santorum swoops in to win Minnesota

Northland Republicans joined those caucusing across Minnesota on Tuesday night in giving a strong nod to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to take on President Obama in November.

Northland Republicans joined those caucusing across Minnesota on Tuesday night in giving a strong nod to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to take on President Obama in November.

Santorum appeared to do well statewide, with about 45 percent of the total vote among Republicans who attended caucuses across the state.

With 94 percent of the precincts in the state reporting, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas finished a strong second at 27 percent while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tallied 17 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

11 percent.

The nonbinding Minnesota straw poll, along with wins Tuesday in the Missouri primary and Colorado caucuses, may help boost Santorum's national campaign, which has lagged since a narrow win in the Iowa caucus a month ago. Since then Santorum had fallen behind Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich for national attention heading toward the party's endorsement in August.

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"Personally I think Rick Santorum most represents the conservative values of Minnesota," said Charlie Haslerud, who was caucusing at Duluth's East High School. "I think he's almost parallel with Tim Pawlenty in terms of his agenda."

Down the hall at Duluth's 8th Precinct, Republicans picked the winner by almost the same margin as statewide voters -- 20 votes for Santorum, 7 for Paul, 5 for Romney and just 1 for Gingrich.

Santorum, who appeared to draw support from the religious right and Tea Party factions of the party, declared Tuesday night that "conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota!"

Ted Lovdahl of Effie, 8th Congressional District Republican chairman who has endorsed Romney for president, said turnout generally ranged from normal to high, with a strong showing of caucus newcomers. Across Northeastern Minnesota, many of those newcomers backed Santorum.

Santorum's margin "was a little surprising. But we saw a lot of new people we haven't seen before in our caucuses," Lovdahl said. "We suspected those were Ron Paul people, and some were. But many of them came out for Santorum. He put a lot of effort into Minnesota and it showed."

Nolan DFL frontrunner, Anderson close

Meanwhile DFL loyalists across Northeastern Minnesota gave their early nod to Rick Nolan to try to retake the 8th Congressional District from freshman Republican Chip Cravaack, although former Duluth City Councilor Jeff Anderson was showing strong support in Duluth and the Iron Range.

Nolan, of Emily in Crow Wing County, was the favorite among DFL party regulars and activists heading into Tuesday night's precinct caucuses. With about two-thirds of the straw polls counted, Nolan had 1,088 votes to Anderson's 642, with about 200 for former State Sen. Tarryl Clark and nearly 200 undecided.

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Nolan considered a caucus night victory as the first step toward securing the party endorsement at the district convention on May 5 at Spirit Mountain in Duluth. But even the endorsement doesn't mean Nolan will be the party's candidate come November.

Both Clark and Anderson have hinted they may continue to campaign and challenge Nolan in an August DFL party primary, saying they want to take their message to the masses and not just party activists. Nolan has said he will support whoever wins the May 5 endorsement.

Anderson did well in many counties, taking 102 delegates in Carlton County to 62 for Nolan and just 10 for Clark. But Anderson, an Ely native, won by large margins in many Duluth precincts -- he won Senate District 7 by a 295-142 margin over Nolan with Clark at 50. And Anderson appeared to take Virginia, Hibbing and Eveleth as well. He said his campaign has been gaining momentum and that the caucus results show surprising support and he expects to battle for the endorsement.

"I'm very happy with what happened tonight, whether it's a close second or even an upset win. A lot of politicos in Minnesota and Washington, D.C., had written me off. But we showed them we're very much in this to stay," Anderson said. "We're going to take our delegates and talk to those undecided delegates and we're going to go on and win this thing."

Duluth DFL State Rep. Kerry Gauthier stumped for Nolan at Denfeld High School at the DFL caucuses there.

"He best reflects the district and our needs," Gauthier said.

Jeanne Erickson of West Duluth said she likes all three of the candidates but said she favors Nolan because "he goes in with some seniority" having already serving three terms in Congress.

It's the first time since 1974 that DFLers have been asked to pick a new candidate for Congress. Cravaack won the district in 2010 from longtime DFL Rep. Jim Oberstar who served 18 terms.

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Nolan is making a bid to re-enter politics after a 32 year hiatus. He was elected in 1974, 1976 and 1978 to serve in what was then Minnesota's 6th Congressional District. He chose not to run in 1980.

Fewer than 5 percent of eligible Minnesota voters were expected to caucus Tuesday night, leading some to say the system is outdated and irrelevant, especially considering the straw poll results aren't attached to actual delegates.

Staff Writers Peter Passi and Mike Creger, Don Davis of Forum Communications Co., and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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