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Lloyd Omdahl, Published January 29 2012

Omdahl: Cramer upends process

By announcing that he will bypass the North Dakota Republican endorsing convention and go straight to the party primary in his quest for a U.S. House seat, Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer has thrown the party endorsing process into turmoil.

After accepting five prior endorsements for public office by conventions, he has made this decision to break away from a convention endorsement for several obvious reasons.

First, he remembers that he lost the U.S. House endorsement in the 2010 convention, and he doesn’t want that to happen again. Sizing up his chances in the 2012 convention, he has concluded that he may not be able to beat the other five candidates vying for the endorsement.

Second, he has better statewide name recognition than any of the other Republican candidates for the endorsement. He has served as a Public Service commissioner since 2003 and has run for the U.S. House twice.

Third, he has amassed a big campaign chest. He has enough money to finance a stronger primary campaign than any of the other candidates.

His unilateral decision leaves the Republican convention and the five other announced candidates in a quandary.

If the Republicans want to retain their self-respect as a party, they can’t let Cramer dictate the terrain for the race. They certainly must endorse a candidate.

Of course, they could declare an open primary and encourage one and all to join Cramer on the primary ballot. However, that would be playing Cramer’s game because Cramer holds the biggest cards in the game – name recognition and money.

If the convention endorses a candidate, the party would be obligated to give that candidate the utmost support to defeat Cramer. To endorse a candidate and abandon him/her would be unthinkable.

This means that the Republican Party will be forced to invest thousands of dollars in a U.S. House race that it would otherwise put into Rick Berg’s U.S. Senate race.

Another consideration. The five other announced candidates may reconsider their availability if they are going to be forced into a hard-fought primary campaign even though backed by a convention endorsement. For sure, running in the primary would require massive amounts of time and a significant personal financial commitment.

While Cramer may have the benefit of name recognition and a fat treasury, his move will cost him dearly in party good will. That will trim more than a few votes from his tally. If he should win the nomination in the primary, he may find it difficult to fire up party enthusiasm for the fall campaign.

Republicans are better than Democrats at closing ranks after bitter disagreements, but there will be a considerable number of Republicans who will sit on their hands in a Cramer campaign. They will feel that they have the luxury of sitting out the campaign because the Republicans will surely keep the congressional seat since the Democrats are fielding a candidate who does not have statewide recognition or significant funds.

After accepting a convention endorsement five times, this is no year for Cramer to question the legitimacy of the convention nominating system even though North Dakota has had a primary system since 1908 that is open and available to anyone who can round up a handful of signatures to get on the ballot.

We may have an open primary in the law, but we are a convention state. This has benefited candidates who lack the personal resources to run statewide primary campaigns on their own. In other words, money is not a prerequisite for getting into politics in North Dakota.

For that reason alone, conventions are worth preserving.


Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com.