FARGO (North Dakota) • North Dakota is not accustomed to being one of the way stations on the path to the White House. Given its meagre number of delegates, and its tiny, remote media markets, it is rare for a presidential campaign to give this state the time of day.
But here was Senator Ted Cruz last Saturday, addressing the state's Republican convention and leading the crowd of several thousand to a standing ovation with a thunderous appeal to North Dakota's sudden relevance. "It is entirely possible the men and women gathered here will decide this entire primary, will decide this nomination," he said.
Mr Cruz also dispatched Ms Carly Fiorina, a former rival who has endorsed him, to warm up the crowd before he spoke.
Mr Ben Carson worked the convention floor on behalf of Mr Donald Trump, shaking hands and posing for pictures.
Governor John Kasich of Ohio sent Mr Gordon Humphrey, the former two-term Republican senator from New Hampshire, to do his bidding.
North Dakota's sudden appearance in the spotlight is one of the most unmistakable signs yet that the party could be headed to its first contested national convention in 40 years, where the state's 28 delegates - barely 1 per cent of the overall total - could make a difference in who wins the nomination.
Because of the unusual way North Dakota selects its delegates to the national convention, it may not be immediately clear which candidate made the biggest impression here.
The state's Republicans do not hold a primary or caucuses; instead, the party activists who streamed into Fargo over the weekend were to elect a slate of 28 delegates yesterday. Those delegates do not have to publicly declare their intentions before they vote at the national convention in July, and they are free to change their minds at any time.
State party conventions like Fargo's are dress rehearsals of sorts for the national convention in Cleveland. Assuming no candidate clinches the nomination by winning a majority of delegates before then, all the herding, arm-twisting, and wooing of delegates that is expected to unfold there is now beginning on a smaller scale.
If campaign placards, stickers and other paraphernalia served as a sort of unscientific straw poll, Mr Cruz was outpacing his rivals. Save for a Kasich sticker here and a Trump sign there, the hockey arena where North Dakota Republicans gathered last Saturday was Cruz country.
Many at the event said they admired Mr Cruz's willingness to irk the Republican establishment.
"Anyone who can get shot on the Senate floor and it wouldn't be a crime, you've got to vote for someone like that," said rancher Terry Schantz. He was referring to a comment by Mr Cruz's fellow Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, that Mr Cruz was so loathed by his colleagues that one of them could kill him and no other senator would care.
Still, some cautioned that Mr Cruz should not become cocky. "There's something called 'North Dakota Nice'," said Mr Ed Schafer, a former governor and an agriculture secretary under president George W. Bush. "People wearing those red stickers aren't necessarily voting for him. They're saying, 'Welcome to North Dakota'."
NEW YORK TIMES
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