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GFH: Schafer’s independence extends to party politics

GRAND FORKS -- The state's Republican heavyweights are standing with their favorite candidates as the North Dakota gubernatorial primary looms.Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem already has garnered support from outgoing Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Joh...

GRAND FORKS -- The state’s Republican heavyweights are standing with their favorite candidates as the North Dakota gubernatorial primary looms.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem already has garnered support from outgoing Gov. Jack Dalrymple and John Hoeven, the former North Dakota governor who now serves in the U.S. Senate.
Their declarations left Fargo businessman Doug Burgum without a big-name North Dakota GOP backer. That is, until this week.

During a visit with the Herald’s editorial board Thursday morning, former Gov. Ed Schafer firmly said he will vote for Burgum when he casts his ballot in the June 14 Republican primary. Schafer’s announcement isn’t a great surprise; late last month, he told a Fargo radio host he was leaning toward Burgum but hadn’t yet made up his mind.

From the outside, this process appears messy - or at least uncomfortable - for high-end Republicans. We first noticed it back in January, when Dalrymple visited with the Grand Forks Herald’s editorial board.

Back then, we noted that Burgum had spoken on Dalrymple’s behalf when the latter was nominated for governor. Dalrymple replied that Burgum was the honorary co-chairman of Dalrymple’s campaign.

When we asked if he planned to endorse in the months prior to the Republican convention - held in April - Dalrymple said he wouldn’t, but that he would “be there 100 percent for the nominee.”

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And he is. Following the convention, the governor said Stenehjem “has the experience and qualities necessary to make a good governor.” Hoeven, too, threw his support toward Stenehjem.

In the end, both took the path of least resistance. They said they’ll support the candidate who emerged from the Republican convention. Simple as that.

It’s an easy bridge over a political morass filled with family friendships and past campaign donations.

Burgum has contributed to both Dalrymple and Hoeven. In April, Forum News Service reported that Burgum gave $4,800 to Hoeven’s first Senate campaign in 2010 and another $2,700 to his re-election campaign last year. Burgum also donated $25,000 to Dalrymple’s campaign in 2011.

Stenehjem didn’t donate as much to those campaigns, but he’s also not as rich as Burgum. The North Dakota attorney general donated $250 to Hoeven in 2010 and $500 to Dalrymple.

There’s more than money at stake. Burgum told Forum News Service that his family’s friendship with Dalrymple goes back more than 30 years.

That’s why Schafer’s declaration of support for Burgum is as surprising as it is refreshing. Hoeven and Dalrymple evidently gave their endorsements based upon following the party’s wishes - backing the convention’s decision, that is.

Schafer did not.

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Thursday, Schafer came to the Herald to discuss his final weeks as interim president at the University of North Dakota. At the close of the meeting, we asked him if he had a prediction on the primary.

“I don’t know. I have been so sequestered on campus, I don’t know what’s going on out there,” he said.

We interrupted: “Who are you voting for?”

“I’m voting for Doug Burgum,” he quickly replied, before going to back to the original question.

“I just haven’t been out and about enough to get some sense of what’s going on. It seems like it’s pretty close,” he said.

Interesting.

This isn’t an endorsement for either Burgum or Stenehjem, nor is it an indictment of Hoeven or Dalrymple. These can’t be easy times for state Republicans, who are being asked to choose sides in an untraditional party squabble.

Schafer, however, deserves credit - not for choosing Burgum, but for going with his gut instead of the will of his party.

Related Topics: DOUG BURGUMELECTION 2016
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