Cramer faces little-known opponent in Senate primary

June 11, 2018

FILE - In this May 26, 2016, file photo, North Dakota state Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D, speaks in Bismarck, N.D. Cramer, a candidate for U.S. Senate, faces Thomas O'Neill, an Air Force veteran who didn't mount a serious campaign, in the Tuesday, June 12, 2018, Republican primary. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast File)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Elections officials are hoping local issues across North Dakota will help a primary lacking big-race drama.

Recent nominating conventions settled most intra-party questions ahead of Tuesday’s primary. That, coupled with no statewide ballot questions, may make it tough to lure voters to the polls.

A few things to know about this year’s primary election:


North Dakota Democrats have no contested statewide races in the primary. Republican Kevin Cramer has a nearly unknown challenger in the primary as he seeks to move from the U.S. House to the Senate. Before Cramer can get to Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in what will be one of this fall’s most closely watched Senate races, his primary opponent is Thomas O’Neill, an Air Force veteran and assistant church pastor with no base, name ID or money. O’Neill also lacked a representative to nominate him at the GOP’s convention in April.



The only other primary race of note is the GOP battle for the House seat Cramer is vacating. Dickinson state Sen. Kelly Armstrong, who left his post as the state Republican party chairman to run after Cramer announced for Senate, has the party’s endorsement and far more money than his opponents. Tiffany Abentroth is a former Marine. Paul Schaffner is a former North Dakota State football player who is appealing a recent conviction for prostitution solicitation.



Two candidates who have ended their campaigns will appear on the primary ballot. State Sen. Tom Campbell is listed for U.S. House even though he dropped out of the race. And GOP-endorsed secretary of state candidate Will Gardner withdrew after it came to light that he had pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 2006 after being accused of peeping through windows at a North Dakota State University women’s dormitory.



The only contested legislative races are GOP: state House in Minot, Fargo and Bismarck and state Senate in rural Grand Forks County — Campbell’s seat. In the Senate primary race, the top vote-getter will advance to the November election. In the House contests, the top two finishers will advance.



While the main event will be the November general election, primary elections are where the government is often closest to the people. That’s why Secretary of State Al Jaeger, North Dakota’s top election official, often refers to it as “the June election.” Voters on Tuesday will pick local governing boards, sheriffs and mayors in cities from Abercrombie to Zap. In the state’s bigger cities, voters from Bismarck and Minot will each choose from three mayoral candidates.



North Dakota has no voter registration. State Census Office Manager Kevin Iverson estimates that there are almost 580,000 people who are eligible to vote in Tuesday’s election. But with no statewide races realistically at stake, voter turnout is expected to follow historical trends of about 25 percent.



As of Monday morning, nearly 35,000 residents already had voted, using absentee ballots and early voting procedures set up in some counties, North Dakota’s secretary of state said.



The voting hours in North Dakota vary by county, but are generally open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time. A voter who is standing in line at the time the polls close will be allowed to vote.

Update hourly