PSC members vie for ND Congress; Berg seeks SenateBISMARCK — With one North Dakota Republican leaving the U.S. House in hopes of switching over to the Senate, GOP voters were left with a choice Tuesday between the former state Republican chairman and director or the party's favored candidate for the job.
By: DALE WETZEL, The Associated Press
BISMARCK — With one North Dakota Republican leaving the U.S. House in hopes of switching over to the Senate, GOP voters were left with a choice Tuesday between the former state Republican chairman and director or the party's favored candidate for the job.
Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk both serve on the state Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, grain elevators and coal mine land reclamation. They even have offices next door to each other on the state Capitol's 12th floor. But there can be only one successor to Republican Rep. Rick Berg's House seat.
“We've raised the money we needed to do. We've got our yard signs out. We've got our grass-roots stuff in place,” Kalk said. “We're just waiting to see how it all turns out, because there's just such a large universe of people that are going to show up.”
Polling places were starting to close at 7 p.m. State law says they can stay open as late as 9 p.m. Central time.
Berg, a freshman congressman, looked Tuesday to clear the way for a fall Senate race with a primary victory over GOP opponent Duane Sand. The winner in that matchup will face former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, who had no Democratic primary opposition for her own Senate bid.
Berg's departure, less than two years after he was elected to Congress, translated to an open House seat, ultimately leading six Republicans to vie for the GOP House nomination. The Democrats’ House candidate, Pam Gulleson, had no primary opposition.
Kalk prevailed over four rivals, including two North Dakota state lawmakers and a former director of the state Commerce Department, for the endorsement of Republican activists at the state party's convention in April. The convention traditionally picks Republican candidates for statewide office, and primary challenges are rare. Cramer, however, declared in January that he would bypass the convention and run in the GOP primary in any case.
“My rationale for this is to open up the party process and invite all Republicans from around the state into this decision,” Cramer said then.
The move prompted grumbling among some GOP activists, who pointed out that Cramer had discouraged such challenges when he served as the North Dakota Republican chairman and director.
Detractors said Cramer had calculated he was likely to lose a convention endorsement, and that he declared his intention to run in the primary early to avoid being labeled as a sore loser if delegates spurned him.
One voter said Cramer already had his chance. Josh Kiemele, 40, who works as a goldsmith in a Bismarck jewelry store, said he chose Kalk at the polls because Cramer had lost two previous races for Congress.
Cramer “has had his shot a few times and he's been defeated,” Kiemele said. “I think Brian Kalk is going to be more palatable to the electorate.”
Joshua Ternes, 33, went with Cramer, however, because Cramer's “religious and personal views are in line with mine.”
Ternes works at the New Song church in Bismarck, which Cramer attends.
Cramer said that after a five-month campaign, he went in to Tuesday's race knowing the outcome was out of his hands.
“There's so many emotions you go through, adrenaline rushes, ups and downs ... and when you get to Election Day, where there're really nothing left for you do to, you feel like it's a little bit out of control,” Cramer said. “But at the same time, there's something somewhat relaxing about that.”
Gulleson used her lack of competition to build up a fundraising advantage over both Kalk and Cramer.
The battle of the wallets was even more one-sided in the Senate race, in which Berg enjoyed a big financial advantage over Sand. In his last Federal Election Commission disclosure report, Berg reported raising $3.25 million for his campaign, with $1.62 million in the bank. Sand raised almost $870,000, and he had about $72,000 on hand in late May and more than $200,000 in debts.
“I know we have had some serious headwinds, but I have given this my best effort,” Sand said. “Whatever happens, I'm good with ... I'm not going to second-guess how hard I worked, because I have worked plenty hard.”
It wasn't enough for voter Ross Whitmore, however. The 28-year-old Bismarck account said he voted for Berg over Sand for a simple reason: “I guess (Berg) hasn't made me mad.”
Berg is running for the Senate in his first House term, which he won by defeating veteran Democrat Earl Pomeroy in 2010. A Fargo real estate developer, Berg served for 26 years in the North Dakota House before winning his seat in Congress. He is a former state House majority leader and speaker.
Sand is running his fourth campaign for Congress. He said he challenged Berg because he believes Berg is not conservative enough, citing Berg's support for a congressional deal to raise the nation's debt limit.
“If I win,” Sand said, “it's because North Dakotans want a serious leader.”