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Published March 29 2012

Divide within North Dakota’s GOP creates friction in endorsement process

BISMARCK – Republicans in North Dakota face two opponents in 2012: Democrats they’ll take on in November and themselves.

Republicans have historically been the dominant political engine in North Dakota, but since the onset of the tea party movement, a philosophical divide has been driving a wedge through the party.

This year’s state and federal candidates represent the warring factions of the Republicans’ loyal base and the rebelling-yet-passionate conservatives who feel the party establishment no longer represents their limited-government principles.

As North Dakota Republicans gather this weekend in Bismarck to endorse a slate of candidates, the party’s in-fighting will likely take a backseat to the energy and enthusiasm sparked by political conventions, especially one in which half of the races are contested.

With 1,940 delegates registered – 70 percent more than the last presidential election year in 2008 – party officials are gearing up for what could be their biggest convention ever.

“The level of excitement within our entire party could not be higher, and it will be on full display in Bismarck,” party spokesman Matt Becker said. “This convention is going to be a blockbuster from start to finish.”

Despite the surface enthusiasm, a pall could still linger among the festivities.

Two diehard Republican candidates very publically declined to join in the traditional endorsement process – the same process they themselves have been supported by several times in the past.

U.S. House candidate Kevin Cramer and U.S. Senate candidate Duane Sand both believe the Republican nominations for their 2012 races should be decided by statewide Republican supporters instead of convention delegates.

Like-minded conservatives support their bold and unprecedented moves.

“The establishment is not happy, but you know, you couldn’t walk into a more lopsided process,” Sand said Thursday, two days after he announced his plans to skip the convention.

Unimpeded by Cramer’s and Sand’s decisions, Republicans will go forward with their traditional selection process, warning candidates who choose not to participate that they “are really doing so at their own peril.”

“This is a process we’re so proud of,” Becker said. “The convention really allows candidates who don’t have as much recognition across the state or as much in the way of resources to get that party backing.”

“I think (Sand and Cramer have) decided that the convention was not going to produce the results that they wanted, so they decided to go outside their own process,” Becker added.

The party endorsement process started with 60 or so statewide district conventions two months ago.

Becker said such a thorough vetting forces candidates to meet face-to-face with potential delegates and talk about the issues.

“It’s something we still value based on our principles,” Becker said, adding: “Anyone who chooses to run outside of that is going to have a much steeper hill to climb to have success in the primary.”

Dissatisfied Republicans say the party’s principles have changed: New blood isn’t as welcome among established candidates or the party elite.

“It’s just so over the top,” Sand said of the convention process. “Usually, you go into it not knowing who’s going to do what and thinking you’re going to deliver your speech and then the delegates will decide. But it’s so clearly being advertised by the establishment who they support.”

Sand is challenging Rep. Rick Berg for the GOP nomination in the U.S. Senate race. Because of Berg’s status as a sitting congressman and his success two years ago in knocking off a longtime Democratic incumbent, he’s been considered a shoe-in for the party’s endorsement.

With Sand now bypassing the convention, Berg is guaranteed the party’s ceremonial endorsement.

Sand will still have a minimal presence in Bismarck apart from the convention proceedings.

He has tapped former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain to help him raise funds in Fargo and Bismarck through Saturday.

Sand said even the presidential caucus results this year reflect North Dako-tans’ unhappiness with the GOP establishment.

“The establishment candidate, Mitt Romney, finished a distant third behind Rick Santorum and Ron Paul,” he said. “The base of the party is no longer where the establishment is.”

Cramer – one of six Republicans campaigning for the U.S. House – has his own reasons for not participating in the endorsement process.

He plans to attend convention activities today and Saturday, and as a sitting Public Service commissioner, he’ll be given time to address the delegates about his statewide office.

Out of respect, Cramer said he’s “probably going to disappear during the House nomination” on Sunday.

“I’ll obviously be respectful of the fact that I’m not seeking their endorsement,” Cramer said, acknowledging the potentially awkward situation. “I don’t want to appear to poke them in the eye or disrespect them any more than I already have.”

Because of Sand’s and Cramer’s decisions, this weekend’s endorsements in the federal races are purely ceremonial.

The Republican Party’s official candidate will instead be decided by a statewide vote in the June 12 primary.

Republicans say the contested endorsements won’t hurt the party’s chances for victory.

They say it’ll strengthen their fight.

“I believe that competition and carrying through the primary process makes whatever candidate is endorsed a better candidate to face off against Heidi Heitkamp,” Sand said, referring to the Democrats’ U.S. Senate candidate.

From the party’s perspective, Becker agreed the contested primaries in June won’t “create a problem for our candidates.”

“In the end, they’re going to receive the support from the vast majority of Republicans in the state,” Becker said, adding that the number of candidates this year “is a huge boost for the party.”

“After our convention, when we’re at a point where we can endorse a candidate for each race, you’re going to see a great unification of our North Dakota Republicans for the candidates,” he said.

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


More than 1,900 members of the North Dakota Republican Party will gather this weekend in the Bismarck Civic Center to endorse candidates in state and federal races.

Schedule of activities:

• Today: Procedural committee and legislative caucus meetings

• Saturday: Keynote speech from South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem. Endorsements for U.S. Senate, insurance commissioner, governor and lieutenant governor, public service commission, auditor, treasurer and superintendent of public instruction.

• Sunday: Endorsement for U.S. House and election of presidential electors.

Seeking the party endorsement:

• U.S. Senate*: Rick Berg

• U.S. House*: Brian Kalk, Shane Goettle, Bette Grande, DuWayne Hendrickson and Kim Koppelman

• Governor: Jack Dalrymple and Paul Sorum

• Lieutenant governor: Drew Wrigley. (Sorum had not announced his running mate as of Thursday.)

• State insurance commissioner: Adam Hamm

• State treasurer: Kelly Schmidt

• State auditor: Bob Peterson

• Public Service Commissioner: Randy Christmann, Blair Thoreson

• Superintendent of public instruction (nonpartisan): Kirsten Baesler and David Monson

*U.S. Senate candidate Duane Sand and U.S. House candidate Kevin Cramer aren’t seeking the GOP’s endorsement and instead plan to compete in the June primary.

Determining contested nominations

With four of eight races drawing more than one Republican candidate this year, state party leaders say delegates will cast paper ballots to determine the contested nominations.

A candidate must receive a 50 percent majority in order to secure the endorsement.

With two GOP candidates each in the races governor, lieutenant governor, public service commissioner and superintendent of public instruction, only one ballot will need to be cast in those races.

For the U.S. House race, where five of six candidates are seeking the endorsement, delegates might cast as many as six ballots before the party’s candidate is chosen.

The GOP’s official rules dictate three ballots must be cast before any candidate is forcibly removed from the ballot.

On the fourth ballot, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped off, and the pattern continues until only two candidates are left on the sixth and final ballot. The victor of that face-off will win the endorsement.

Six ballots might not be necessary if candidates choose to concede the endorsement earlier in the balloting process.

Source: North Dakota GOP


Stay tuned to Inforum online throughout the weekend for stories from the GOP convention in Bismarck.

Also, follow Forum reporter Kristen Daum on Twitter – @kristendaum – for live updates Saturday and Sunday and join the conversation by using #ndgop2012.