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North Dakota GOP endorses candidates; US House marquee race

April 8, 2018

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Republican activists said their state convention in Grand Forks is one of the GOP’s best-attended gatherings, though it still did not settle the race for the state’s lone congressional seat.

The more than 1,600 party faithful on Saturday endorsed state Sen. Kelly Armstrong of Dickinson for U.S. House, though state Sen. Tom Campbell of Grafton and former U.S. Marine Tiffany Abentroth have signaled they will continue on to the primary despite not getting their party’s endorsement for the seat. Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is vacating the seat, is looking to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

A convention endorsement only guarantees a candidate a spot on the June 12 primary ballot and party support against any challengers.

Any candidate may file petitions to run in the primary, although such challenges are rare. The most recent exception was in 2014 when former Microsoft executive Doug Burgum defeated North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in the Republican primary for governor, after party faithful endorsed Stenehjem as their preferred candidate.

Campbell, a wealthy potato farmer, has dug deep into his own pocket for the past several months to buy TV ads to raise his profile statewide. About three-quarters of the more than $1 million he has raised has come from himself, Federal Election Commission filings show.

Campbell drew negative headlines last month with the revelation that he was paying convention registration fees for some delegates. The move is permitted by party rules, but some Republicans — including Armstrong and Abentroth — said it could be seen as vote buying in an endorsement battle. Though Armstrong had covered registrations for a handful of family members, Campbell had covered more than 60 people, most of whom reimbursed the party for fear their names would be disclosed.

Any candidate could file petitions to run in the primary. The candidate must win the primary to run in the November general election.

Delegates endorsed Cramer on Saturday. The Senate race has big stakes for the state and the nation, as Republicans seek to cling to a narrow majority in the chamber.

Incumbent Attorney General Stenehjem, Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and Public Service Commissioners Randy Christmann and Brian Kroshus are unopposed for the endorsement of Republican delegates.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger, the longest-serving Republican official in the North Dakota Capitol, faced an intraparty challenge that he lost when the GOP endorsed Mandan businessman Will Gardner instead. Jaeger was first elected in 1992 to the office that is best known for supervising elections.

North Dakota Democrats held their convention last month in Grand Forks, endorsing Mac Schneider for Congress, state Rep. Joshua Boschee for secretary of state, state Sen. Jim Dotzenrod for agriculture commissioner, David Thompson for attorney general, Kylie Oversen for tax commissioner, and Casey Buchmann and Jean Brandt for public service commissioners.

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