MOORHEAD — The turnout was light at the Clay County Republican caucuses at Moorhead High School Tuesday night, Feb. 25, but with President Donald Trump the only candidate on the national ticket it was perhaps not unusual.
County GOP Chairman Fred Wright was hoping for a larger crowd than the 70 residents who showed up, but he wasn't expecting it to match the 900 who attended in 2016. At that caucus, five or six candidates were still viable in the race for the Republican nomination for president and there was a vote taken at the caucuses to endorse candidates.
Wright was expecting more "excitement" across town at the Democratic gathering, he said, with their presidential nomination race open this year.
He told the crowd, though, that "we are very happy with the candidate we have, and it looks like they are going to nominate a Socialist."
However, in interviewing a spattering of caucus-goers on Tuesday night, a few surprisingly weren't sold on Trump.
Randy Weivoda, of Dilworth, who has been attending caucuses for 20 years, compared his view on Trump to a sports team.
"You like the team, but you don't necessarily like the owner," he said.
He said he was happy with most of the work of the Trump administration, but not with Trump's "obnoxious and embarrassing" words.
"I'm sure I'll end up voting for him, though," he said.
A younger caucus-goer, 18-year-old Christian Elmer, said he was "undecided" if he would vote in the primary next Tuesday, March 3, with only Trump on the ballot. The Concordia College freshman from Moorhead said he enjoys politics, though, and was later singled out as someone who might help form a teenage Republican group in Clay County.
Two other caucus-goers interviewed, however, said they were strong supporters of Trump.
Gary Olson, of Kragness, who has been at 20 caucuses and sells insurance in Moorhead, said Trump has kept his promises, unlike other politicians.
Beth Anderson, of Moorhead, who works for a community action agency, said she liked Trump because of his pro-life, Second Amendment and job creation stances.
Although the presidential nomination is secure, the race for the GOP nomination for the U.S. House seat in western Minnesota's sprawling Seventh District is wide open as five candidates vie for the right to take on longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who hasn't announced whether he's running for reelection. That race was a focal point of the caucuses.
Elmer said he's been contacted by two-time Peterson challenger Dave Hughes, of Karlstad, who showed up at the caucus, and former state Sen. and Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, of Paynesville. He said he hasn't made up his mind between the two.
Hughes, who lost to Peterson by a narrow margin in 2018, said he came to the gathering because Clay County is one of the bigger counties in the district.
His No. 1 concern is the nation's $22 trillion deficit and Weivoda said he likes Hughes because "he's the only one who talks about the debt more than all of the others."
Hughes in an interview with The Forum said he objects to the media and political pundits referring to Fischbach as the front-runner.
He said he has proven that he has the delegate support in the past and is expecting their grassroots support again this third time around.
He also said Fischbach doesn't seem to have a grasp of federal issues and failed to show up at a Fergus Falls candidate forum last month when the four other candidates were there. Letters were read to the caucus-goers from the other candidates, including attorney Joel Novak, of Alexandria, Dr. Noel Collis, of Hutchinson, and Pastor Jayeson Sherman, of Windom.
Caucus-goers divided into precincts later in the gathering to come up with resolutions and elect delegates to the Clay County convention, which will be at the Moorhead Armory on March 14. Resolutions and delegates to the district and state conventions will be determined then.