North Dakota Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Monday decided to step back into the race for his office, after his party's endorsed candidate dropped out over the weekend.

Will Gardner withdrew after it came to light that he had pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 2006 after being accused of peeping through a window at a North Dakota State University women's dormitory.

Gardner, a 41-year-old Mandan businessman, had beaten Jaeger for the GOP endorsement for secretary of state in April. Jaeger then ruled out challenging Gardner in next month's primary election.

Jaeger said Monday he will run as an independent in the November general election. The 74-year-old was first elected in 1992 and is the longest-serving Republican official in the North Dakota Capitol. He said he wants four more years in office.

"I made a decision a year ago, to accomplish some of the things I want to accomplish here, one more term would be great," Jaeger said, adding that, if he wins another term, it would be his last leading the office that runs elections and keeps business records.

Jaeger appears to be the only chance for the Republican Party to effectively hang onto the office. Gardner's name will still appear on the June 12 primary ballot, and with voting by mail underway for several weeks already, it's unlikely a write-in candidate would win, state Republican Party Chairman Rick Berg said. If a write-in candidate were to lose in the primary, he or she could not run as an independent in November, he said.

The other option for the party would be what Jaeger is doing. Jaeger needs only to gather 1,000 valid signatures by Sept. 14 to secure a spot on the November ballot as an independent.

The Republican Party's state committee, made up mostly of district leaders, will decide whether to issue a letter of support for Jaeger, as it does for the nonpartisan state school superintendent office.

"From a party standpoint, obviously we want to endorse someone for this race," Berg said.

No other Republican has expressed an interest in either a write-in primary campaign or running as an independent in November, he said.

Fargo state Rep. Josh Boschee is the endorsed Democrat for the seat. He said he's not daunted by Jaeger's name recognition, because he believes business owners and farmers are frustrated that the secretary of state's office hasn't kept up with the times and "my campaign has always been about modernizing the office."

"People are looking for change — that's clear with who the GOP chose at their own convention," he said.

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