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Cramer leads Kalk in US House primary

GRAND FORKS - With 397 of 426 precincts reporting by 10:53 p.m. Tuesday, Kevin Cramer was leading Brian Kalk 54 to 45 percent in the North Dakota primary to clinch the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. House in November.

Out of the 90,678 votes cast in those precincts, 49,390 backed Cramer, while 41,185 voted for Kalk.

If the final tally keeps Cramer in the lead, he will challenge Democratic-NPL candidate Pam Gulleson and Libertarian contender Eric Olson in the fall.

Kalk, 46, picked up the party's endorsement this spring, beating out four other hopefuls at the North Dakota Republican Party state convention in Bismarck.

But Cramer, 51, opted to skip the convention, instead focusing his campaign on winning the primary election to get the party's nomination and move to the general election.

Cramer said he liked "the trend" he had seen in Tuesday's updated vote tallies, which had kept him in the lead throughout the night. But he said the race was too close to call by press time Tuesday.

"I'm experienced enough not to relax until they've all been counted," he said.

Even without an assured victory by Tuesday night, Cramer said he was excited about the energy surrounding this summer's election because of the "very interesting" ballot -- including a measure that dealt with UND's Fighting Sioux nickname and a failed proposal to eliminate property taxes in the state.

But he said the contested Republican U.S. House and U.S. Senate nomination races also helped to build buzz over the primary, which was expected to draw a record turnout.

"If you love freedom and you love democracy, you have to love a day like today," Cramer said Tuesday. "Activism is alive and well."

Earlier in the night, Kalk said his campaign team had "done everything we hoped to do," including getting 4,000 yard signs out to supporters across the state.

"We absolutely are feeling really good about tonight," he said.

Kalk was unavailable for comment late Tuesday evening.

North Dakota's lone spot on the U.S. House is open because freshman Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., is running for retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad's spot on the U.S. Senate.

U.S. House members are elected to two-year terms and earn $174,000 a year.

Born and raised in Bottineau, Kalk attended college at Dakota College in Bottineau before enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1987. After retiring, he first entered the political field in 2008 when he successfully ran for a six-year term on the state's Public Service Commission.

Cramer has a long history of political service, becoming state chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party at age 30 and serving as state tourism director from 1993 to 1997, when he was then appointed state economic development director. Then-Gov. John Hoeven appointed Cramer to the Public Service Commission in 2003, and he was re-elected to six-year terms in 2004 and 2010.