BISMARCK — Three months after being found guilty of trying to solicit a prostitute, North Dakota Republican Paul Schaffner launched a bid for the U.S. Senate on Monday, even as the state party's chairman described him as an unserious candidate.
The 47-year-old Minot man said libertarian leanings help inform his message of self-reliance. He signaled support for President Donald Trump, who easily won the Republican-dominated state in 2016.
"One thing (that's) been clear is President Trump has brought the swagger back to American business," he said during a press conference at the Bismarck Public Library. "Love him or hate him, he keeps things real."
Schaffner comes into the race with legal baggage. He was arrested during a prostitution sting in Bismarck in May 2017, and he's currently appealing the Class B misdemeanor to the North Dakota Supreme Court. In his brief to the court, Schaffner said the state "did not meet its burden proving elements of offense at trial."
Early last year, a North Dakota judge denied Schaffner's request to terminate a domestic violence protection order received by his ex-wife in 2012 that said he was a "credible" safety threat. Court records indicate the order expired at the end of last year. Schaffner said "there was no domestic violence."
Schaffner said he is "motivated by (my) own failure."
"I have to earn the trust of North Dakotans," he said.
Schaffner played linebacker at North Dakota State University from 1988 to 1992 before teaching, coaching and working as an oil field consultant. He said he currently works in an operations position for an energy services company.
Schaffner ran for the Republican nod for the U.S. House in 2010 before dropping out.
North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Kelly Armstrong, a state senator from Dickinson, said he doesn't know anyone who was "all that aware" of Schaffner and called his legal troubles "pretty much insurmountable." He said while candidates like Schaffner "have every right to run, they don't have the right to be taken seriously."
Schaffner said he plans to "outwork" others on the campaign trail. In a rebuttal, he said he doesn't take Armstrong seriously.
Schaffner's press conference came just days after Rep. Kevin Cramer said he was "mildly reconsidering" running for the Senate at the urging of people he declined to name. He said last month he would run for re-election in the House instead of challenging Democratic incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
State Sen. Tom Campbell and former state Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth have already jumped in the U.S. Senate race. Thomas O'Neill, an Air Force veteran from Niagara also said he would run last month.