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In Caucus States, a Chance for (Almost) Every Candidate

The states holding Republican caucuses on Tuesday have received little attention as compared with high-profile primary states like Ohio and Georgia. But the caucuses in Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota — in addition to awarding 87 delegates — will help decide how the overall Super Tuesday scoreboard is reported and may seem more important in the rear-view mirror. In 2008, Barack Obama’s wins in the caucus states on Super Tuesday helped him to win more delegates from the evening, and turned what was initially perceived as a relatively poor performance for him into one that gave him some degree of momentum.

There hasn’t been any polling done in the caucus states. So in lieu of polling-based forecasts, we instead consulted with experts in each state to get the lay of the land.


Predicting a winner in Alaska is difficult — in large part because turnout for the caucuses has traditionally been very low. Moreover, the state’s Republican electorate is about evenly matched between Tea Party-aligned voters, including evangelicals and libertarians, and voters nearer the ideological middle who are more concerned about electability, said former State Representative Jay Ramras.

The Republican presidential campaigns have been mostly invisible in Alaska. None of the campaigns have advertised locally, and Representative Ron Paul of Texas is the only candidate to have visited the state personally. Mitt Romney sent one of his sons, Josh Romney. Rick Santorum has been calling in to Alaskan radio programs, and Newt Gingrich held a telephone town hall with Alaskan voters on energy, a critical issue in the state.

Alaska is generally divided into five regions. The Anchorage area, Southcentral, is home to more than half the state’s population. It includes the Mat-Su Valley1 about 40 miles north of Anchorage. The Valley, a suburban bedroom community home to many evangelical Christians, is the most conservative region in the state and is likely to favor Mr. Santorum.

Mr. Paul is likely to do well in the Fairbanks region, the most libertarian area of Alaska, itself a fairly libertarian-minded state. Mr. Romney will probably do well in the comparatively moderate region around Juneau, the state capital. The last region in the state, the North Slope, is sparsely populated

Mr. Romney won the state’s caucus in 2008 with 35 percent of the vote. Mike Huckabee won 22 percent, and Mr. Paul won 17 percent. Something similar could happen this year, with Mr. Santorum taking the place of Mr. Huckabee. Mr. Ramras, however, believes evangelical voters will turn out in droves and help Mr. Santorum to compete for the state. And Mr. Paul has considerably outperformed his 2008 benchmarks in most caucus states so far.


The executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, Jonathan Parker, estimated that Mormon voters would make up about a third of caucus-goers on Tuesday. That would represent a significant advantage for Mr. Romney.

The Mormon population in Idaho is concentrated in the eastern half of the state, particularly in the farm and ranch-rich southeast. This is deeply conservative territory. In 1976, when Ronald Reagan challenged sitting Republican President Gerald Ford from the right, Reagan won more than 80 percent in a number of counties in Idaho’s southeast.

Southwest Idaho is mostly Catholic and evangelical, while the northwestern panhandle is predominately Catholic and Protestant. These areas would seem fertile ground for Mr. Santorum, who is Catholic, but there are signs in other states that Mr. Santorum’s appeal among fellow Catholics is less than rock-solid.

Most of Idaho’s population is concentrated around Boise in Ada County. Canyon County, to the west, will also represent a large share of the vote.

The party establishment in Idaho is mostly behind Mr. Romney, especially at the top. Gov. C. L. Otter, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Senator James Risch and Representative Mike Simpson have all backed Mr. Romney. Mr. Paul, and to a lesser extent Mr. Santorum, have each garnered some local support also.2

Idaho’s large Mormon population makes Mr. Romney the favorite to win the state’s 32 delegates. All the major candidates have campaigned in the state, but Mr. Romney is the only one to have broadcast advertisements, although it was a small buy. That said, because this is the first year that Idaho Republicans are holding a caucus without a primary, there is an element of unpredictability in the outcome.

North Dakota

North Dakota may be the most vulnerable of the three states for Mr. Romney, with both Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum having a solid chance to defeat him.

The Paul campaign also has been organizing in North Dakota since November, longer than any other, according to Matt Becker, the communications director for the state Republican Party. More recently, the Romney and Santorum campaigns have appointed state directors.

The state’s economy is among the healthiest in the nation, buoyed by the discovery of the Bakken Shale, an oil-rich deposit. Republican voters in the state, angered by the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate hydraulic fracking, may prove receptive to Mr. Paul’s libertarian message.

If Mr. Santorum is less organized in the state, he has performed well in prairie regions so far, winning almost all the counties in the Minnesota caucuses (including all those bordering North Dakota) as well as almost all in eastern Colorado.

Mr. Gingrich is the only candidate to not visit North Dakota, nor has his campaign had much of a presence in the state, Mr. Becker said. Instead, Mr. Gingrich has been repeatedly mentioning North Dakota while campaigning in other states. That’s probably not good enough for North Dakota Republicans, Mr. Becker said.

1: Wasilla, Alaska, where Sarah Palin served as mayor, is in the Mat-Su Valley.

2: Mr. Gingrich has not announced any Idaho endorsements.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.