State GOP endorses Hoeven, BergNorth Dakota Republicans decided Saturday to back Fargo state Rep. Rick Berg’s first run for the U.S. House instead of supporting Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer’s third bid for the job.
By: Associated Press, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — North Dakota Republicans decided Saturday to back Fargo state Rep. Rick Berg’s first run for the U.S. House instead of supporting Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer’s third bid for the job.
Separately, delegates at the GOP state convention handed Gov. John Hoeven their endorsement to run for the U.S. Senate seat being left open by longtime Democratic incumbent Byron Dorgan, although 21 percent of the delegates supported Hoeven’s challenger, Paul Sorum. The Fargo architect had presented himself as a more conservative alternative to Hoeven, a moderate Republican and former Democrat.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem was unchallenged for GOP backing in his fourth campaign.
On the convention’s closing day Sunday, three more Republican incumbents — Tax Commissioner Cory Fong, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and Secretary of State Al Jaeger — do not face any GOP opposition in their quest for party endorsements.
A convention endorsement only guarantees a candidate a spot on the June 8 primary ballot and party support against any challengers.
Cramer, whose Public Service Commission term ends this year, said he was likely to seek re-election, although he disavowed any interest in doing so during his House campaign.
“I’m here. Obviously I love the work. And if the delegates would have me, I suppose I would make myself available,” Cramer said in an interview.
Bismarck state Sen. Bob Stenehjem, the Senate Republican majority leader, has been interested in a PSC race, but he said he would not challenge Cramer. Stenehjem is the attorney general’s brother.
The convention’s featured race was the U.S. House contest, in which Cramer, Berg and businessmen J.D. Donaghe and DuWayne Hendrickson competed for the endorsement.
Republican delegates and officials had pegged the contest as a close one between Berg and Cramer, but the Fargo lawmaker and former state House majority leader turned it into a rout. Berg got 972 votes, or 67 percent, compared to Cramer’s 442 votes (31 percent) and Donaghe’s 32 (2 percent). Hendrickson got five votes.
Berg will be trying to unseat Democratic incumbent Earl Pomeroy, who is running for his 10th term this fall.
“People felt, one, we need to make a difference in Washington, and having the legislative experience is important,” Berg said. “We’ve got to correct our economy, and we’ve got to correct our deficit.”
Cramer, who is a former state tourism and economic development director, lost twice to Pomeroy in 1996 and 1998. He said delegate memories of his two defeats hurt his chances, along with many delegates’ apparent belief that he should seek re-election to the PSC.
“I think the two losses ... were a major factor,” Cramer said. “But the No. 1 factor is Rick’s organizational ability (and) the campaign he ran. It was a quality, top-drawer campaign.”
Berg said he was unsure of the cost of his endorsement campaign, which included a Friday night reception for delegates, literature draped over more than 1,600 convention hall chairs and Saturday morning tables groaning with pastries outside the convention hall. He believes he will need at least $1.5 million to wage a campaign against Pomeroy, he said.
“Next, the question is, how do we take a message that we took to 1,600 delegates — how do we take that message to 640,000 North Dakota people?” Berg said.
Hoeven, who is running for the Senate after a decade as governor — he is in the middle of his third term — got 945 delegate votes for the endorsement, compared to Sorum’s 251. Sorum got votes from delegates representing 40 of the state’s 47 legislative districts and carried District 19, a staunchly conservative region in rural Grand Forks County, 13-10.
Sorum said he did not regard delegates’ support of him as a message to Hoeven to move rightward. He said he did not intend to challenge Hoeven in the Republican primary, or to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent.
“I talked to John. We’re friends. I said I’d like to help him if he needs me somewhere,” Sorum said. “We’ll sit down here in the near future and go through it.”
Hoeven said he and Sorum share the same goals. “I think the message is we’re unified,” Hoeven said. “Republicans are ready to go.”
North Dakota Democrats are choosing their candidates at their state party convention next weekend in Fargo. Bismarck state Sen. Tracy Potter is the only declared Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate race.