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N.D. Secretary of State, Al Jaeger, leaves the podium after his speech seeking the Republican nomination for the office he's held since 1993. Jaeger lost the nomination to Will Gardner at Saturday's convention

FARGO -- Al Jaeger will be armed with a letter of support from the North Dakota Republican Party once he files petition signatures to get on the November ballot to run as an independent for secretary of state, the office he currently holds as a Republican.

The North Dakota GOP’s state committee voted unanimously on Saturday to give Jaeger the letter of support for his independent candidacy.

“As the state’s chief election official, our secretary of state must always operate above reproach and with the highest ethical standards,” Rick Berg, the state Republican Party chairman, said in a statement. “There is no one more suited for that role than Al Jaeger.”

The unusual maneuver follows the withdrawal from the race of Will Gardner, who upset Jaeger when he got the Republican endorsement early this spring but later exited the race.

Gardner, the only Republican on the ballot for the office in the June 12 primary, also was the top vote getter. But Gardner withdrew his candidacy after news reports surfaced last month of his 2006 arrest from a window-peeping incident outside a female dormitory at North Dakota State University.

Jaeger, who needs 1,000 valid signatures to get his name on the general election ballot as an independent, said he already has collected 1,200 signatures.

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“People are taking them to workplaces and what have you,” he said. “It only took a matter of 2½ weeks or whatever to obtain those.”

The petitions are due in September, and Jaeger, who has been elected to seven terms of office beginning in 1993, plans to keep collecting signatures because supporters keep offering to circulate papers.

“That type of groundswell of support, that’s really been humbling and very gratifying and I’m thankful for that,” he said.

Democrats have endorsed and nominated Joshua Boschee, a Fargo legislator, as their candidate for secretary of state.

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