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Published January 21 2012

Forum editorial: Cramer throws ’em a curveball

Kevin Cramer has been a party man all his political life. A former North Dakota Republican Party chairman and executive director, he’s run for public office several times as a loyal party member and with the imprimatur of the party apparatus.

Not this time. This time, Cramer will preside over an unprecedented political defection from Republican ranks and party orthodoxy.

The two-term member of the state Public Service Commission,

two-time unsuccessful endorsed candidate for the U.S. House, and 2010 unsuccessful candidate for his party’s endorsement for the U.S. House, is going it alone. He will not compete with five other Republicans for the party’s nod for the U.S. House at the upcoming endorsement convention. He will bypass the entire process and run in the June primary against the candidate who wins the party’s support.

Reactions fall into two camps: Cramer is a sincere and courageous candidate or he’s an opportunistic and selfish traitor. As of late last week, the blizzard of vitriol from the state’s Republican establishment, including from candidates seeking the House endorsement, fell into the latter category.

But by any measure, Cramer’s option is historic and gutsy. He’s hurled a hard, high curveball at his party. To our knowledge, never has a Republican candidate announced before the endorsing convention that he would run in the primary. And never has a mainstream connected, credentialed Republican thrown the party establishment under the bus, as Cramer seems to have done.

Cramer doesn’t see it that way. He believes he has something to offer the voters of the state the other Republican candidates lack, and therefore wants to open the process to more than a few delegates at the convention. He’s made a calculation that he likely would not win the party’s endorsement, so the primary is the only other route he has to run as a Republican. Clearly, he’s willing to suffer the anger of party regulars – many of them his friends – in order to win the chance to take on the Democratic nominee in November.

But by torching the party bridge, he is taking a gamble. If he loses the primary, his political career is over. If he wins, he risks losing support of Republicans who won’t forgive him for bolting the party establishment. They might stay home rather than vote for him. That scenario warms Democrats’ hearts.

This much is certain: Cramer’s bold decision adds yet another fascinating element to a North Dakota election season that already was on its way to being one for the history books.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.