WDAY.com

WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published January 19, 2012, 06:51 PM

Cramer to Bypass ND Republican Endorsement Process

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Republican U.S. House hopeful Kevin Cramer said Thursday he would skip the North Dakota GOP convention's traditional candidate selection process and run instead in the June primary, an unorthodox decision that immediately drew criticism from rivals.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Republican U.S. House hopeful Kevin Cramer said Thursday he would skip the North Dakota GOP convention's traditional candidate selection process and run instead in the June primary, an unorthodox decision that immediately drew criticism from rivals.

One opponent, Brian Kalk, who serves with Cramer on the state Public Service Commission, suggested the move was prompted by Cramer's belief that he would be beaten in a GOP state convention fight.

"Our opponent did the math, and realized that he simply could not win the endorsement," Kalk said in a statement posted on his campaign website. "Now he has made the decision to bypass the convention, marginalizing the very people who have built the North Dakota Republican Party."

Cramer denied that, and said he believed a primary campaign would be the best way to draw attention to Republican candidates.

"I'm doing this to bring a lot more people into the party, and my main rationale for this is to open up the party process and invite all Republicans from around the state into this decision," Cramer said.

North Dakota Republicans and Democrats both normally choose their favored statewide candidates at party conventions. This year's Democratic convention is March 16-18 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, while Republicans are holding theirs March 30-April 1 at the Bismarck Civic Center.

A party endorsement only means the candidate has a guaranteed spot on the primary ballot. The candidate must win the primary to get the Republican or Democratic nomination to run in the November general election.

In most elections, that has not been an issue, because the political parties' respective statewide candidates have run unopposed in the primary.

One memorable exception was 1992, when the two Democratic convention rivals for governor, Attorney General Nicholas Spaeth and the state Senate's Democratic majority leader, William Heigaard of Langdon, squared off in the June primary after Heigaard beat Spaeth for the Democratic convention endorsement.

Spaeth won the primary handily, but went on to lose to Republican Ed Schafer in the November general election. Spaeth's primary challenge was widely acknowledged as a contributing factor to Schafer's victory, and Republicans have held the governor's office since.

What Cramer is attempting has not been done in North Dakota politics for at least 30 years. He is bypassing the local district conventions where state convention delegates are chosen. He said Thursday he is not likely to attend the convention itself.

"I really did feel like that the way to do this with the most integrity is to let people know prior to the delegates being elected, and prior to the convention, so it wouldn't be a situation where I'd lead them to believe one thing first, and then change my mind later," he said.

Only one district convention so far has been held to choose delegates to the North Dakota GOP convention, Tuesday in Dickinson's District 37. Dozens of others are scheduled in the next two months.

Six declared candidates are competing for the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. House: Cramer, Kalk, Republican state Reps. Bette Grande, of Fargo, and Kim Koppelman, of West Fargo, former state Commerce Department director Shane Goettle, and Minot resident DuWayne Hendrickson.

Democrats have one declared candidate, Pam Gulleson, of Rutland, a former North Dakota House assistant floor leader and aide to former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. The group is competing to succeed incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., who is running for the U.S. Senate.

At a candidates' debate in Valley City last month, Goettle, Kalk and Koppelman said they did not intend to challenge an endorsed candidate in the primary. Grande declined to rule it out, and Hendrickson had not yet entered the race.

Cramer's decision means "we're already going to have a primary," Grande said Thursday.

"It really has no impact on my campaign. I have the intention to keep on working hard," Grande said. "This doesn't change the fact that Washington is still broken, and that is my focus."

In a Federal Election Commission disclosure filing last week, Cramer reported raising $215,000 through the end of last year, the largest total reported of any of the six candidates. Kalk and Goettle have reported raising smaller amounts. Disclosure reports are not required to be filed until Jan. 31.

Cramer is a former North Dakota Republican chairman and director, and in those roles he discouraged primary challengers to endorsed GOP candidates. He said Thursday he has personally advocated leaving the nomination process to primary voters.

"I want to get about the business of growing our party, and bringing a lot more people into this, a lot more grass-roots support," he said. "Rather than spending two months pursuing 500 (delegate) votes, I want to spend the next couple of months pursuing 100,000 votes."

Tags: