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GOP voters mulling House pick; Poll finds Dem. Gulleson trailing both Kalk, Cramer

FARGO -- Six months out from the general election, a Republican seems poised to win North Dakota's U.S. House seat this year, but a significant proportion of likely Republican voters are undecided as to who that contender should be.

A Forum Communications Co. poll of 500 likely voters statewide found 37 percent of Republicans haven't made up their minds about next month's primary contest between Brian Kalk, the party-endorsed candidate, and challenger Kevin Cramer.

Among decided Republicans, though, 38 percent said they'd vote for Cramer in the June 12 election and 25 percent said they'd support Kalk.

Essman/Research of Des Moines, Iowa, conducted the telephone survey May 3 to May 8. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Breaking the results down by self-declared party affiliations, Cramer received the most support from independents, with 46 percent supporting him compared to 28 percent who support Kalk and 27 percent still undecided.

The greatest proportion of self-identified Republicans -- 42 percent of those surveyed -- were undecided with one month to go before the primary.

The survey asked self-identified Republicans to weigh in on the primary race between Cramer and Kalk, while all likely voters surveyed were asked for their pick in the general election.

Of the likely voters polled by Forum Communications, 38 percent classified themselves as Republican, 37 percent said they were independents and 23 percent described themselves as Democrats.

Specifically for the June primary contest, 59 percent said they planned to vote Republican, while 41 percent said they planned to vote Democratic.

Looking ahead to potential general election matchups, either Kalk or Cramer appears able to beat Democrat Pam Gulleson, according to the results of Forum Communications' poll.

Gulleson, a former chief aide to retired Sen. Byron Dorgan, is the lone Democrat seeking North Dakota's U.S. House seat.

If the November election were held at the time of the survey, Cramer would have the strongest chance at victory. The results show Cramer had a nearly 3-to-1 lead over Gulleson.

Cramer garnered 61 percent of all likely voters' support compared to 23 percent who supported Gulleson. Fifteen percent were undecided.

Kalk versus Gulleson would likely be closer than that, but the poll still indicates a sizeable Republican advantage. Kalk received 48 percent of likely voters' support, while Gulleson received 31 percent. Slightly more voters -- 21 percent -- were undecided in that potential contest.

North Dakota's lone U.S. House seat is up for grabs this fall because Republican Rep. Rick Berg is campaigning for the U.S. Senate this year. Berg won the seat in 2010 after ousting Democrat Earl Pomeroy, who'd previously held the office since 1993.

North Dakota Democrats are looking for Gulleson to reclaim the seat this year. Prior to Forum Communications' poll today, only one poll -- with questionable partisan ties -- had been publicly released on North Dakota's U.S. House race.

Last fall, a conservative-leaning alternative news outlet in North Dakota commissioned a poll that gauged how the six Republicans then-running for the seat would fare against Gulleson in 2012.

That survey by found both Cramer and Kalk ahead of Gulleson, but not by as wide a margin as Forum Communications' poll found this month. Cramer's communications director Kate Bommarito was formerly a regular contributor for

Among objective ratings, national media outlets offer predictions similar to what poll found. Many analysts say North Dakota's seat seems to be reasonably safe in Republican hands.

However, The Washington Post recently named North Dakota's House race as its most likely to surprise because of its competitiveness -- specifically noting Gulleson's strong campaign so far.

As of April 1, Gulleson had raised more campaign funds than Kalk and Cramer combined. Since the start of their campaigns last year, Gulleson has raised more than $400,000, Cramer has raised nearly $200,000 and Kalk has raised about $177,000.

Leading up to the primary, Kalk and Cramer have waged fairly muted campaigns, compared to the more vocal competition present in North Dakota's contested U.S. Senate race.

As the Republicans' endorsed candidate, Kalk has benefited from the institutional and financial support of the North Dakota Republican Party.

However, Cramer has countered that with notable support nationally. Just this week, he picked up endorsements from two super PACs that promote anti-establishment, tea party candidates in contested primaries.

Both FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth are among the wealthiest super PACs this cycle. Although neither group has explicitly pledged financial support to Cramer's bid, super PACS are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for or against congressional candidates.

Cramer and Kalk are both state public service commissioners. Cramer has served on the board since 2004, while Kalk was first elected in 2008.

In an unprecedented move, Cramer chose not to seek the North Dakota Republican Party's traditional endorsement this spring. Cramer, a former NDGOP chairman, said he wanted to participate in a process that involved Republicans statewide.

Ultimately, the North Dakota Republican Party endorsed Kalk after three ballots at its annual convention, in which he increasingly edged out his four competitors.

Libertarian Eric Olson, of Fargo, is also seeking North Dakota's U.S. House seat this year. He was not included in Forum Communications' poll.

Daum is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.