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A North Dakota oil boomtown leans to Romney’s jobs-first policies

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have sparred over jobs and a sluggish economy. But the President can boast of a success story – Williston, a booming oil town in North Dakota with an unemployment rate that would make Alberta or Saskatchewan green with envy. And although it all spiked under the Obama administration, you won’t find many Obama champions here. North Dakota is a red state where even newcomers consider themselves economic refugees of stumbling economies in other states. All told, it robs Mr. Obama of a victory – even in this economic oasis, Mr. Romney is seen as the jobs-first candidate.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

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Williston lies an hour south of the Canadian border in snowy North Dakota, but the climate is at odds with the housing. Campground spots are highly coveted and companies have built a series of “man-camps,” a collection of industrial trailers to house staff. The state’s job boards lists hundreds of open positions in the boomtown looking for a piece of what is easily America’s largest single oil field. It all makes Williston a city in flux – in the only U.S. state where voters don’t need to register.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

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The massive Bakken oil field sretches into parts of Montana and Saskatchewan. Development here has been akin to a gold rush, due to the new oil boom sparked by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Williston may be the home of a resurgence that took off under Mr. Obama’s presidency, but North Dakota and most oil states – Texas, Oklahoma, Alaska – are expected to back Mr. Romney. California is the only major oil-producing state the Democrats expect to win.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

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Nothing moves slowly in Williston. Try keeping up with Kelley Rankin, 34, a StatOil employee who has too many job titles to count and makes this diner booth a de facto office. Ms. Rankin and her husband moved here from Texas three years ago. At the time, she was nervous; now, she’s among Williston’s biggest fans. She’s voting Republican, fearing an emboldened Mr. Obama would put the choke on oil fields. “Our best interest is not going to be at heart if Romney doesn't win,” she says.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

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If you don’t have a bed in Williston, good luck finding one. Workers are often kept in housing well outside town and bussed in and out each day. Hotels are packed. Vacancy rates are low while rental rates soar. Developer Gary Fendich and real estate broker C.J. Antonyuk moved from Seattle to build a subdivision of affordable housing. “We read about the oil boom, read about the housing, read about the shortage of housing and decided this would be a good place to start,” Mr. Fendich says.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

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Truck driver Paul Whitcomb moved his family up from Arkansas to take a job in Williston’s booming oil fields. Unable to find housing, he, his wife, four children, three dogs, one cat and four kittens live year-round in their RV. “We expected extremely hard living circumstances and that is exactly what we got when we moved here,” he says. He’s leaning Republican, and has a warning for environmentalists who may come to Williston: “People will probably want to tie you to one of the trees you wanna hug.”

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

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