Open ND House seat a rare opportunity
GRAND FORKS — The next North Dakotan to take a seat in U.S. House after Rep. Kevin Cramer leaves office will be the lone representative for the state in the chamber.
Republican-endorsed candidate Kelly Armstrong of Dickinson, Democrat Mac Schneider of Grand Forks and Independent candidate Charles Tuttle of Minot will appear on the November ballot for Cramer's seat, which he has held since 2013.
Cramer, a Republican who is vacating the seat to challenge U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for her seat in the Senate, said the office is one with a lot of responsibility because the person in the seat represents the entire state by himself or herself.
"It really hits you hard when you go to Congress, you go into that chamber, you realize you have 434 colleagues and not one of them is from your state," he said. "From a North Dakota perspective, you are the representative. You carry a state brand and not a district number brand."
Representatives from North Dakota usually serve in the House for long periods of time. Former Congressman Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., was elected in 1993 to the seat after Democrat Byron Dorgan, who served in the House from 1981 to 1992, was elected to the Senate. Pomeroy was re-elected eight times until he was defeated in 2010 by Republican Rick Berg.
Berg served only one term before he ran against Heitkamp for a Senate seat in 2012, where he lost by a slim margin.
Since 1980, there have only been four open House races.
"We don't have that many open seats," he said. "It's important that we get it right. This person could end up being our representative there for some time."
Armstrong has served in the North Dakota state Senate since 2013 and was the state GOP chair from 2015 to 2018, when he stepped down from the latter position to run for U.S. House. The attorney has painted himself as an establishment conservative.
"What that means is you can be conservative but you can still work with everybody," he said.
Armstrong said he is an advocate for the state's agriculture and energy industries, adding he is passionate for public service and wants to bring his hard work to Washington, D.C. He said he wants to tackle issues that impact the checkbooks of North Dakotans.
Schneider also was in the state Senate. The attorney served as a lawmaker from Grand Forks from 2009 to 2016, when he was defeated by Republican Curt Kreun. He also was the state's Senate minority leader.
The Democrat has called himself a bipartisan lawmaker who, if elected, will work with both parties in the House. Talking about "kitchen-table issues" has become a popular phrase for his race, as he has advocated for addressing issues that impact North Dakotans every day.
"I've tried to make it as clear as possible that I'll work with President (Donald) Trump and Republicans in Congress and Democrats and everybody in between to advance our state's best interests," he said.
Tuttle has called himself a "full-blown Republican" who supports Trump and his policies implementing tariffs on China. He is known for his efforts to gain signatures for petitions, including one for UND keeping the Fighting Sioux nickname and a 2014 shared-parenting ballot measure.
He said education is a priority for his campaign, citing a 2017 North Dakota assessment of schools that said 46 percent of students are proficient in English and 40 percent in math.
Tuttle said he goes out to the streets to debate issues and creates legislation through initiated measures.
"We need leaders, we don't need people that just go along," he said, adding he would work to bring the Fighting Sioux nickname back to UND athletics.
The race also has a unique twist — none of the endorsed candidates have held a statewide office.
That hasn't happened since 1963, before North Dakota's First District for U.S. House was replaced by the at-large district. U.S. Rep. Hjalmar Nygaard died in office that year, prompting a special election with four candidates — Republican Mark Andrews, Democrat John Hove, Independent Thomas W. Dewey and Conservative Republican John W. Scott, according Secretary of State archives.
Andrews, a farmer from Mapleton who, like Hove, never held a statewide office, won the election and remained in the House until he was elected to the Senate in 1980.
Schneider, Armstrong and Tuttle said they all have been making rounds in North Dakota to get their names on the minds of voters.
The candidates will have to work hard to get name-recognition amid a high-profile Senate race, Cramer said. But Armstrong and Schneider have experience in representing residents in North Dakota during legislative sessions, Cramer noted.
"State legislators, I think, tend to make good members of Congress because Congress is a legislative body," he said.
Pomeroy said the position requires attention to "the nuts and bolts" of advancing North Dakota's needs and reflecting the residents' values.
"The state's congressman cannot be deeply engaged in the partisan scrabbles that occur within the House," Pomeroy said. "North Dakota has one vote. We don't have the luxury of diverting or squandering the state's goodwill and the ability to address our needs by playing politics."