The North Dakota Republican Convention followed script with one mild surprise. Rep. Kevin Cramer got the endorsement for the U.S. Senate and state Sen. Kelly Armstrong of Dickinson was selected to run for the House.
The mild surprise was the delegates going with Mandan businessman Will Gardner over sitting Secretary of State Al Jaeger. Gardner won with 679 votes to Jaeger’s 438. The endorsement vote was moved up a day because convention officials worried some delegates would leave early because of a pending snowstorm. It’s hard to say if either candidate benefited from the change. Jaeger has been criticized in the past for the technology level in his office and his handling of election laws. However, since being first elected in 1992 he hasn’t had difficulty defeating his Democratic opponents.
The Democrats may have convinced the GOP that updates were needed in Jaeger’s office as Gardner ran a “21st century” campaign to get the endorsement. The Democratic endorsed candidate, Rep. Joshua Boschee of Fargo, is expected to run an aggressive campaign.
In fact, the Democrats may be better positioned to run strong races for more offices than in the recent past. Republicans certainly didn’t think they had anyone besides Cramer who could mount a serious threat to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. The party worked hard to persuade Cramer to drop his House re-election bid and run for the Senate. Now the Republicans face a potentially tough House race against Mac Schneider, a former state Senate minority leader. It’s not guaranteed that Schneider will run against Armstrong in the fall because state Sen. Tom Campbell of Grafton and former Marine Tiffany Abentroth plan to challenge Armstrong in the primary. This means Armstrong can’t put his total focus on Schneider during the primary. Schneider, however, has the advantage of no opponent so he can attack Armstrong all he wants.
It still seems like a long shot for the Democrats to make any inroads into Republican control of most offices. Heitkamp is the only Democrat holding an elected state or federal office in North Dakota. The Heitkamp-Cramer race already has attracted national attention and is expected to be expensive and rough and tumble. The attack ads are already airing on television and radio. In his convention address, Cramer called the election a fight for “the soul of the United States Senate.” Cramer accuses Heitkamp of ignoring President Donald Trump on key votes while Heitkamp points to how often she supports the president. Some see Cramer as too quick to support Trump’s agenda, though Cramer has been trying to put some distance between himself and the president on the Chinese tariff issue.
The Senate candidates should make as many appearances together as possible. An exchange of ideas can make it easier for voters to select a candidate. Heitkamp and Cramer will appear on May 5 at the North Dakota Newspaper Association convention in Bismarck.
The candidates for the various offices should make as many joint appearances as time allows. The debates or forums often aren’t as well attended as organizers would hope, but more opportunities mean there’s a chance more will come out to hear the candidates. Competitive races benefit everyone in the state since candidates can’t as easily fudge on the issues if their opponents have a chance of beating them.
Republicans and Democrats came out of their conventions feeling good about their respective tickets. We’ll see how the voters respond. Will the state remain solidly Republicans or will Democrats hold firm in the U.S. Senate and make gains elsewhere? The June primary is right around the corner and it won’t be long until November.