ND GOP convention popular despite challenges

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota Republican activists expect their state convention to be one of the GOP's best-attended gatherings, even though two candidates are taking the rare step of bypassing its endorsement fights to run primary campaig...

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota Republican activists expect their state convention to be one of the GOP's best-attended gatherings, even though two candidates are taking the rare step of bypassing its endorsement fights to run primary campaigns for the U.S. Senate and House.

Beginning on Saturday, more than 1,700 Republican delegates will be picking their preferred candidates for eight offices. Four races will have more than one person vying for delegates' favor.

The most competitive race will be settled Sunday, when delegates choose from five candidates for the U.S. House endorsement. The winner then must prepare for a June primary race against Kevin Cramer, a state public service commissioner who unsuccessfully ran twice for the U.S. House in the 1990s.

The convention is being held in the Bismarck Civic Center. North Dakota Democrats held their convention two weeks ago in Grand Forks.

Cramer said in January he was skipping the convention in favor of a primary run. He is scheduled to give a five-minute speech Saturday about his PSC work, and he plans to attend a dinner for major Republican donors.


"I don't know what to expect, but people have been very polite," Cramer said. "As time has gone on, I think people have gotten more comfortable with the idea that I'm running in the primary."

Cramer's PSC colleague, Brian Kalk, is one of the five candidates seeking the U.S. House endorsement. The others are Shane Goettle, a former director of the North Dakota Commerce Department and aide to U.S. Sen. John Hoeven; state Reps. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, and Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo; and DuWayne Hendrickson, of Minot.

The other assured Republican primary race is for the U.S. Senate, where Duane Sand, a Bismarck businessman and former unsuccessful candidate for the Senate and House, has dropped a convention challenge to GOP congressman Rick Berg. Instead, Sand said he will oppose Berg in the primary.

During the weekend convention, Sand said, he will be holding small home events with supporters in Fargo and Grand Forks. He said Berg, a House freshman, has been too accommodating to congressional efforts to raise spending and the national debt limit.

"It's just too important of an election to leave to the party bosses picking their candidate," Sand said. "Our country is heading to a cliff .... Everyone should get a say on who our candidate is."

Stan Stein, the state GOP chairman, said Thursday he was disappointed by the primary challenges. North Dakota has no voter registration, and Democrats may take part in the June Republican primaries if they choose, Stein said.

"If we go directly to a primary, we have other people who can vote in that besides Republicans, who don't have the Republican Party's best interests at heart," Stein said.

Primaries for North Dakota statewide office have been rare. The most notable recent primary fight was a 1992 clash between two Democrats, Attorney General Nicholas Spaeth and state Sen. William Heigaard, D-Langdon, the Senate's majority leader.


Democratic convention delegates endorsed Heigaard to run for governor, but Spaeth beat him in the primary. Spaeth then lost to Republican Ed Schafer in the general election.

GOP convention delegates also must decide whether to dump incumbent GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple in favor of Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect and former U.S. Senate candidate; choose from among state Rep. Blair Thoreson, R-Fargo, and Sen. Randy Christmann, R-Hazen, as the GOP's preferred candidate for the Public Service Commission; and whether to support state Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, or Kirsten Baesler, the president of the Mandan school board, for superintendent of public instruction.

Three incumbent Republicans -- Auditor Robert R. Peterson, Treasurer Kelly Schmidt and Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm -- are unopposed for convention endorsements for re-election.

A Republican convention endorsement entitles the favored candidate to a spot on the June ballot, although anyone else may qualify for a primary race by getting 300 petition signatures. The endorsement also gives a candidate access to party mailing lists and fundraising resources.

Matt Becker, a state Republican spokesman, said 1,743 delegates and 197 alternates had registered to attend the convention by Monday's deadline. Including spectators, more than 2,000 people are expected to attend, he said.

That would be the largest attendance since 2000, when just over 2,000 delegates endorsed Hoeven for governor over Casselton state Sen. Gary Nelson, the GOP Senate's majority leader.

Hoeven was subsequently elected to three terms as governor. He resigned in December 2010, in the middle of his third term, after he won a seat in the U.S. Senate. He was succeeded by Dalrymple, his longtime lieutenant governor, who is running for the governor's job for the first time this year.

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