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GOP caucus draws good crowd in Willmar, Minn.

Mitch Clark holds his daughter, Kathryn, while participating Tuesday in the Republican caucus in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

WILLMAR -- The GOP caucus Tuesday night in Willmar drew a large crowd of party faithful who expressed overwhelming support for Rick Santorum as their choice for Republican presidential candidate.

The non-binding straw poll in Willmar, which included about 20 precincts, showed 161 supporters for Santorum, 29 for Mitt Romney, 65 for Ron Paul and 28 for Newt Gingrich, according to preliminary figures.

At the caucuses conducted at the New London-Spicer High School, Santorum topped the list with 77 votes. Paul had 25, Romney, 18, and Gingrich, 14.

In an informal survey of a handful of the nearly 250 people who attended caucuses at the Willmar Middle School, people expressed strong convictions for Rick Santorum as their candidate of choice but were torn with the issue of his electability.

George Brecheisen of Willmar was leaning toward Santorum because of "all his beliefs and what he stands for," but was concerned if Santorum would have what it takes to win the nomination.

Todd Bergeth said he was going to "stick to my principles" and cast his straw poll vote for Santorum because he most closely matches Bergeth's "conservative principles."

He said, however, that Romney would be more electable because he could attract moderate Republicans and independents that "in the end are the people who decide elections."

Calling himself a member of the "anybody but Obama party," Bergeth said he will support the Republican nominee.

Nicotie Bothof of Raymond likes Santorum for his position on right-to-life and marriage issues. "I just feel I can trust him," said Bothof, adding that she thinks Romney is too easily swayed and changes his mind to "please people."

Mitch and Kristyn Clark of Willmar said they both intended to support Rick Santorum in the straw poll vote because of his "consistently conservative" record.

"I believe he represents most of my values and beliefs very well," said Mitch Clark, who was holding the couple's six-week-old daughter, Kathryn.

But Clark said all four GOP candidates are "strong" and he will support the endorsed candidate in November.

Romney and Ron Paul also had supporters at the Willmar caucus.

Leonard Wickeraad of Willmar said there are "good and bad" sides to all the GOP presidential candidates but he was supporting Mitt Romney because he has the best chance of winning.

Terry Brunson of Willmar is also backing Romney because of his positions on the economy, which Brunson said should be on the front burner now instead of social issues.

Brunson said he's concerned about social issues but said once the country is "working again," then there can be discussion about social issues.

Nick Landberg said he was backing Ron Paul because of his "political insight and past predictions," and Ron Fake said Paul is the only candidate who has the "right message" about the economy, the Federal Reserve and the federal stimulus package.

Rollie Nissen, co-chairman of the Kandiyohi County GOP, urged the caucus-goers to unite behind the candidate that is endorsed, even if it's not the candidate they are supporting now.

Not being unified could ensure that President Obama is re-elected, said Nissen, adding that DFLers Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken were elected because Minnesota Republicans didn't unite to support the endorsed candidates at the time.

"Let's not be the ones to give Barack Obama a second term," he said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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