by Paul Rignell
Republican straw poll voters in Otsego aligned with most of Minnesota’s other caucus precincts Feb. 7 by casting the most preferential ballots for presidential candidate Rick Santorum, with his support among those gathered in Otsego City Hall coming in stronger than his statewide averages.
Precinct volunteers counted 69 votes for Santorum to 30 for challenger Ron Paul, 22 for Mitt Romney and 11 for Newt Gingrich. One voting participant declared being undecided.
The ballot counters included Josh Borner, who told the Star News that he first caucused two years ago in response to how the country was being run. “Running away from me,” he said.
Borner said that he supports constitutional principles — “I’m a Ron Paul guy,” he said — and that he is also concerned over spending and taxes, “same as what you hear from everyone.”
It is as important for the Republicans to nominate someone who will not spend like former president George W. Bush, Borner said, as it is to find someone whose policies will differ from President Obama’s. “Watching Bush’s spending was a big one (among reasons for getting active),” Borner said. “Spending as much as he did, I didn’t want to see another one of him in.”
Among other citizen participants at Otsego City Hall, Ben Bauman said that he was caucusing for the first time since his senior year at Delano High School, which coincided with George H. W. Bush’s run to succeed Ronald Reagan as president.
“The older I get, the more importance I see in the process,” Bauman said. He wasn’t expecting a full house, and was stunned to see 30 people already seated and waiting 20 minutes before the 7 p.m. start. “I was surprised at how packed it was tonight with the people here,” he said.
Bauman was there not only as a concerned resident but also as a business person. He is an insurance agent with an office in Elk River. “As a business owner,” he said, “I think it’s important to make sure businesses keep the opportunity to succeed.”
Janet Christie, as Republican precinct chair, managed decorum among the more than 130 party supporters in attendance. She said she has aligned with Republican values her “entire adult life” but that she became active only after moving to Otsego in September 2005. She attended a nonpartisan class hosted by her church on how to get involved in a caucus, she said, and she joined the next available one in 2006.
Asked why she likes her role as a convener, Christie replied, “I don’t know if I really enjoy it. I don’t know if it’s really enjoyable. … I just feel like I’m doing something (of value). I get to meet people who are like-minded, and I’ve made friends.”
Christie and many other participants breathed a collective sigh when no one spoke up to her request for any proposed resolutions. It assured that with speeches on behalf of the presidential candidates and the straw polling among other activities (which included the recording of delegates for a Wright County party convention March 10 in Buffalo), the caucus lasted just a little more than a hour and most attendees were back on the road by 8:20 p.m.
“It can really carry on,” Christie said of the discussion. “Last time (2010) I think we were here almost to midnight.”
Democrats in an Otsego DFL caucus fit around two cafeteria tables at Otsego Elementary School, with just 11 people in attendance.
Precinct chair Gabe Davis said the numbers were close to 100 in 2008 when Barack Obama was running for the first time, and down to 30 or 35 in 2010 when Democrats ended up nominating Mark Dayton for his successful run in the state’s gubernatorial race.
Davis suggested the numbers may have been low also due to a strong sense that U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., will not be challenged within the party this year in a bid for re-election.
“I think she’s played it right,” said Davis. “I think she’ll have that seat her whole life if she wants it. She hasn’t done anything controversial.”
“I think we all just about fainted (in 2008, over the early support for Obama). It was a big brouhaha,” recalled caucus participant Diane Burns, who is volunteering this year for Sen. Klobuchar’s campaign.
As with many active citizens on either end of the spectrum, Burns’ local interest grew out of dissatisfaction. “I was very unhappy with how the country was being run by the GOP,” she said. “We needed to get our man in there because he had good ideas on health care, education and housing. Now we need to work harder to get our legislatures and our Congress balanced.”