BISMARCK-Republicans in western North Dakota are asking people to sign up as delegates and endure a long drive across the state for next month's convention where Dickinson state Sen. Kelly Armstrong will vie for the party's support to run for Congress.
The push comes before a convention that will be held in the backyard of Armstrong's main competitor, Grafton potato farmer and state Sen. Tom Campbell. The Alerus Center in Grand Forks is roughly 350 miles from Dickinson but only about 40 miles from Grafton.
There were 1,354 registered delegates as of early afternoon Friday, March 23, said state GOP Executive Director Dane Ferguson. Friday marked a "soft registration deadline," he said.
Armstrong supporter Eric Nelson, chairman of the District 1 Republicans in Williston, said he's "pretty concerned" about the turnout from western North Dakota. The long drive probably warrants a day off from work and could be complicated by the weather, he said.
"I'm trying to get as many people as I can to sign up," Nelson said.. "It's hard. It's a lot easier when this is in Minot or Bismarck."
But Dickinson state Rep. Mike Lefor, an Armstrong backer who's chairman of the District 37 Republicans, said they have filled their 57 delegate slots.
Republicans in Armstrong's home district issued a "plea" earlier this month, urging western North Dakotans to sign up for the convention and support his run for Congress. While Armstrong has told reporters "it's convention or bust," District 36 Republicans warned Campbell would mount a primary election challenge if he loses the endorsement.
"We realize this is a great distance and a tough time for many people in our districts but we would ask you to please consider the opportunity we have to affect national policy, policies that we here in Western North Dakota will have to live with," the group wrote in a March 7 Facebook post.
District 36 Chairman John Enderle said Friday they had filled almost two-thirds of their 71 delegate slots.
Campbell spokesman Mike Schrimpf said their plan is to win the convention and the June primary. He said geography isn't a "determining factor," given Campbell's months on the campaign trail attending more than 40 district conventions and Armstrong's previous role as state GOP chairman.
Armstrong criticized Campbell this week for paying registration fees for an undisclosed number of delegates, a move Campbell's campaign defended as a way to encourage participation at the convention. The summit will be held April 6-8, a few weeks after Democrats endorsed former state Sen. Mac Schneider to run for the U.S. House.
Armstrong downplayed any geographic considerations and noted he lived in Grand Forks for a decade while attending college and practicing law.
"North Dakota issues are, for the most part, North Dakota issues," Armstrong said. "Ag and energy affect everybody across the state."