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By Ryan Johnson, Forum Communications Co., Published March 19 2010

Flooding might affect North Dakota Republican convention

The North Dakota Republican Party’s state convention kicks off today at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, but spring flooding could skew which delegates make it to the convention and even have an impact on who gets nominated.

Adam Jones, the party’s executive director, said officials have modified the schedule to make events as accommodating as possible amid rising rivers.

“There are a lot of folks from the valley who are delegates to the convention,” he said. “Our first concern is helping them out as much as we can.”

Committee meetings and a welcome reception kick off the convention today.

Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect competing with Gov. John Hoeven for the U.S. Senate nomination, will hold a town hall meeting from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Canad Inns.

The biggest schedule changes are Saturday. Party endorsements for the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and North Dakota attorney general were originally scheduled for the afternoon, but will now immediately follow the keynote speech by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., at 9:30 a.m.

Sunday’s events were similarly moved up. Gov. Tim Pawlenty will give a keynote address at 10 a.m., followed by party endorsements for state-level offices that include tax commissioner, agriculture commissioner, secretary of state and public service commissioner.

Uneven impact?

Jones anticipates the convention should still be well-attended because there is a much larger than expected number of delegates who represent districts around the state.

Officials thought they’d get about 800 delegates when planning started last year, but they ended up with about 1,600. Still, Jones said 30 percent of delegates live in areas now affected by flooding.

The delegate issue is important during the convention because “very clear” state and national Republican Party rules require delegates to be on the convention floor to vote, Jones said. That means there is no absentee voting if someone stays home because of flooding.

There is an unlikely way around the issue – if two-thirds of delegates in attendance vote to suspend the rules, they could propose a motion to allow absentee voting.

“I don’t see that happening,” Jones said.

But there’s also a close contest to get the U.S. House nomination that could be affected by flooding. Four Republicans are vying for the endorsement, including Kenmare businessman J.D. Donaghe and 2008 Independent Party governor candidate DuWayne Hendrickson of Minot.

But the endorsement contest arguably comes down to two candidates, state Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, and Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer.

Jones said he has heard some concerns that Berg’s connections in Fargo could put him at a disadvantage. That’s where the worst flooding is happening, which means it’s likely most absent delegates will be from the area.

The party’s main concern, Jones said, is to provide the opportunity for every possible delegate to vote. “We’ll do everything to make sure that happens.”

‘Is what it is’

“Having delegates unable to get there is a concern whether they’re supporting me or another candidate,” Berg said, but it’s also just part of living in North Dakota.

Steps already taken by the party could lessen the impact, he said, such as scheduling the House nomination to start early Saturday so they could still drive home that day if necessary.

But Berg pointed out that quite often “things are out of our control.” Possible problems like sewer backup or failing sump pumps could still cause delegates to miss the convention, he added.

Cramer said flooding understandably could impact the number of delegates that come to Grand Forks.

“There are a lot of factors that impact turnout, but none quite as dramatic, probably, as this flood is,” he said.

Ryan Johnson is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.