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Published January 19 2012

Cramer will forgo GOP endorsement process in US House race

FARGO – Republican U.S. House candidate Kevin Cramer said Thursday he won’t participate in the state GOP convention in March, an un­precedented move that bucks the traditional political process in North Dakota.

Cramer, a former party chairman, said his decision is not intended to di­vide the Republican Party but rather allow for more participation in the process because state endorsement conventions tend to draw only the most-dedicated party supporters.

Cramer said competing directly in the June primary plays to his advantages as an electable candidate.

“None of us are entitled to this,” Cramer told The Forum’s Editorial Board on Thursday, “but I do have the advantage – not by having just name recognition but, by far, the most name recognition, not just having raised the money but, by far, having raised the most money.”

This is the fourth congressional bid for Cramer, a state Public Service Commissioner since 2003.

Cramer unsuccessfully sought the state’s U.S. House seat in 1996, 1998 and most recently in 2010, when he lost the GOP endorsement to freshman Rep. Rick Berg.

By not seeking the party endorsement this year, though, Cramer places all his bets on winning the June 12 primary, which will inherently pit him against whomever the party endorses this spring.

“I’m trying to do it with as much integrity as possible,” Cramer said. “I wanted to let all the delegates know in advance, everyone in the party apparatus know in advance, that I’m going to challenge this in a different way.”

But Cramer’s decision is a rare move that changes the game for this year’s GOP contest.

Well-known candidates in North Dakota rarely challenge the party endorsement, let alone skip participation in that process altogether.

Cramer said he couldn’t recall if a GOP candidate had ever bypassed the state convention before.

Among North Dakota Democrats, there have been notable conflicted primaries in recent decades, but in those cases, the candidates still competed at the state party convention.

In the 1992 gubernatorial race, Democratic delegates endorsed state Sen. William Heigaard over Attorney General Nick Spaeth.

Spaeth then challenged Heigaard for the official Democratic nomination in the June primary and won.

In the general election, though, Spaeth lost to Republican Ed Schafer.

Another example came in 2004, when state Superintendent of Public Instruction Wayne Sanstead lost the party endorsement to Max Laird but later beat him in the June primary.

Republican Party loyalists have said contesting a primary can fracture – rather than unite – voters, which could potentially tip the advantage to another party’s candidate during a pivotal election year.

Besides Cramer, seven other candidates – including five Republicans – are seeking the chance to be North Dakota’s next U.S. representative: Democrat Pam Gulleson, Libertarian Eric Olson, and Republicans Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, former state commerce commissioner Shane Goettle, Fargo legislator Bette Grande, West Fargo legislator Kim Koppelman and Minot resident DuWayne Hendrickson.

At a debate in December, Cramer and Grande were the only GOP candidates to say they’d be willing to run in the June primary if they didn’t earn the party endorsement this spring.

Cramer said Thursday he has been considering since then whether to skip the convention altogether.

He said his decision came after much thought, and “it’s a decision I’m really at peace with.”

Many GOP supporters were surprised and troubled by Cramer’s unprecedented move, including some of his competitors.

Both Kalk and Grande reiterated their commitment to participate in the state convention, while simultaneously blasting Cramer for his defection from party tradition.

“I believe that the delegates to the state convention, chosen by their district Republicans, are best qualified to endorse our candidate to Congress,” Kalk said. “Their integrity and commitment to our nation, our state and our party cannot be questioned.”

Grande offered similar sentiments in a letter to her supporters describing Cramer’s decision as “the same old politics as usual.”

“No matter how you spin it, this is the arrogance of the establishment ruling class on full display,” she wrote. “If anyone thought that a big fundraising report or bypassing the convention was going to get me to sit down and shut up, well, they don’t know me very well.”

Koppelman said he hopes Cramer will reconsider his decision.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541