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GOP governor’s race leads election lineup

BISMARCK - The race for North Dakota's highest elected office could be settled Tuesday as a hard-fought and increasingly bitter race between two Republican candidates for governor reaches its conclusion in the deeply red state.

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BISMARCK – The race for North Dakota’s highest elected office could be settled Tuesday as a hard-fought and increasingly bitter race between two Republican candidates for governor reaches its conclusion in the deeply red state.

Voters also will decide on a ballot measure seeking to overturn legislation passed last year that would relax a 1932 law to allow non-family corporations to own dairy and swine operations.

In the gubernatorial race, longtime Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is trying to fend off a vigorous challenge from Fargo entrepreneur Doug Burgum, who lost a three-way race for the GOP endorsement in April but decided to run in the primary for the party’s spot on the November ballot. Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple decided not to seek a second full four-year term.

It’s the marquee matchup and only intraparty contest on a statewide ballot that also features candidates for state insurance commissioner, treasurer, public service commissioner and auditor.

Each campaign raised more than $1 million, and Burgum, who led Great Plains Software through its sale to Microsoft for $1.1 billion in 2001 and now develops downtown Fargo real estate and invests in startups, has said he spent even more of his own money on his extensive campaign.

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Political observers predict the GOP nominee will be a heavy favorite in November against Democratic state Rep. Marvin Nelson, a crop consultant from Rolla running his first statewide campaign, and Libertarian candidate Marty Riske of Fargo. North Dakota hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor since 1988.

The primary ballot doesn’t allow voting for more than one political party, and some have speculated that Democrats could cross over and vote for Burgum as a more acceptable alternative to Stenehjem, an entrenched Republican who served 24 years in the Legislature before being elected attorney general in 2000. Former Democratic-NPL Party executive director Jim Fuglie even urged Democrats to vote for Burgum in a blogpost Sunday.

Oilfield consultant Paul Sorum of Bismarck, who received just 1.69 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful run for governor as an independent in November 2012, also is seeking the GOP nomination after skipping the convention.

More than 45,000 voters had already cast their ballots as of mid-afternoon Monday through absentee ballots, vote-by-mail ballots and in person at early voting sites.

That’s second only to the 53,463 early votes cast in the 2012 primary, when voters rejected hot-button measures that would have abolished property taxes and required the University of North Dakota to keeps its Fighting Sioux nickname. The 2008, 2010 and 2014 primary elections averaged about 28,000 ballots cast early.

Absentee, vote-by-mail and early voting has accounted for more than a quarter of the total ballots cast in each of the past four primary elections, from 26.9 percent in June 2014 to as high as 30.5 percent in June 2012, when about 175,300 people voted.

In addition to being the primary for state and county offices, Tuesday also is the general election for city, school board and park district races.  

Voting hours in North Dakota vary by county. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at many sites across the state, but some don’t open until 8 or 9 a.m. and some don’t close until 8 p.m. A list of polling places and hours is available on the secretary of state’s website at https://vip.sos.nd.gov/Precincts.aspx?eid=291 .

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Voters in even-numbered legislative districts will determine which House and Senate hopefuls advance to November. Republicans have contested primaries in three districts:

-- In District 28, incumbent Reps. William Kretschmar of Ashley and Rep. Mike Brandenburg of Edgeley face challenges from Jeffery Magrum of Hazelton and Barton Schott of Kulm. Kretschmar, who has served in the House for all but four years since 1973, lost his district’s endorsement to Schott.

-- District 14 incumbent Reps. Jon Nelson of Rugby and Robin Weisz of Hurdsfield are opposed by Albert Krueger of Harvey and Dennis Fred of Rugby, who resigned his duties as district chairman at the request of the state party chairman because he challenged his district’s endorsed candidates. Sen. Jerry Klein also is defending his seat against Glen Baltrusch of Harvey.

-- In District 36, Luke Simons of Dickinson is trying to secure a spot in November over incumbent Reps. Mike Schatz of New England and Alan Fehr of Dickinson, who lost the district’s endorsement to Simons.

Democrats left two House races unchallenged, both in District 28, along with Senate races in districts 2 and 8. The Libertarian Party has candidates in Senate District 42 in Grand Forks and House in districts 16 and 46.

Republicans currently have a 32-15 advantage in the Senate and 71-23 majority in the House.

On the no-party ballot, voters also will choose between incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler and challenger Joe Chiang --  both of whom sought the GOP letter of support that Baesler ultimately won -- and between Southeast Judicial District Judge Jerod Tufte and Bismarck attorney Robert Bolinske Sr. for a 10-year term on the North Dakota Supreme Court. But because the top two vote-getters in each race advance, all four will be on the November ballot.

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Wayne Stenehjem

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