ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Normally overlooked, Minnesota Republicans reveled in a chance to sway a party presidential nominating contest in Tuesday night caucuses that for once were on the radar of all the major contenders.

Party faithful prepared to register their preferences in a straw ballot that won’t bind any of the 40 national convention delegates. But it offers plenty of symbolic importance. Coming off back-to-back wins, front-runner Mitt Romney hopes contests in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado add more distance from a chase pack of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

The foursome gave Minnesota voters personal attention with a host of visits spread out over the last week. Signs were pointing to a closer margin than Romney’s 2008 runaway win in Minnesota over eventual GOP nominee John McCain. That year, more than 60,000 Republicans went to a caucus; party insiders said despite the competitive nature of the 2012 caucuses they weren’t expecting to rival that number.

Romney backer Eric Radtke, 32, had a quiet confidence that the former Massachusetts governor would win again. Radtke, a telecommunications salesman from Shakopee, said he saw Romney as the party’s best hope to defeat incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama in the fall.

Plus, Radtke said, “every time I hear him he seems to exude the level of respect for this country that I think it deserves.”

Other Republicans weren’t as charitable.

Terry Groetken said he’d have to “hold my nose” to vote for Romney in November as the party nominee because he doesn’t trust him to stay consistent on core conservative principles.

Groetken, a 71-year-old retired optical salesman from Plymouth, planned to cast his vote for Gingrich.

“He’s a bulldog,” Groetken said, reflecting on Gingrich’s days as House speaker in the 1990s. “I’m old enough to remember Newt taking over and doing a pretty good job.”

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, pulled large crowds during three days of campaigning. He was banking on support of the GOP’s most socially conservative voters who value his unflinching stands against legalized abortion and gay marriage, for instance.

And Ron Paul, a 12-term Texas congressman, campaigned in the state from Saturday on. He planned to await Tuesday’s results in a Minneapolis suburb.

Sam Schueller, a recent St. Cloud Technical College graduate, said Paul’s longshot nomination hopes didn’t bother him. He considered Paul the most trustworthy of the bunch.

“Both parties have a lot of hobbyhorses that they’re happy to compromise over. Ron Paul has a set of beliefs and he will keep to those beliefs no matter who’s in the room listening,” Schueller said. “The truth is he’s probably not going to be the Republican nominee, but he doesn’t need to be the nominee to affect the process. Every delegate he gets is a little more influence over the convention.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (5)
  1. liberty for all says:

    What’s to study? The only one that’s any different is Ron Paul. All the rest are cut from the same cloth. All dinos trying not to become extinct. Time marches on and one day this party will be free of the stranglehold it currently suffers from.

  2. Veteran says:

    I agree, nothing to study here Newt, Romney and Santorum are all the same.,big government politicians. Ron Paul is the only statesman of the bunch.

    “The Patriot Act- You can’t be a promoting of freedom if you are busy taking freedoms away”

  3. Concerned For Liberty says:

    Santorum wants to rule your bedroom by banning contraception.
    Romney doesn’t care about the lower class and who knows what he stands for anyways?
    Gingrich is too busy planning his moon base and increased spending to think about the real issues!

    Ron Paul wants to cut $1trillion first year, end the Patriot Act (illegal surveillance of the American people), end the NDAA (indefinite detention of American people without trial), end the Drug War ($BILLIONS wasted every year with no results) and most importantly, RESTORE THE CONSTITUTION!

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