BISMARCK - North Dakota Democrats endorsed the state's first Native American candidate for federal office and recruited a retiring state lawmaker to run for U.S. Senate, but also left slots unfilled for several statewide offices on the final day of their state convention in Bismarck.
Fort Yates attorney and American Indian activist Chase Iron Eyes delivered a rousing speech as he accepted the Democratic-NPL Party's nod for U.S. House.
"I got into this to defeat (Republican U.S. Rep.) Kevin Cramer because I think I have the grassroots appeal that we desperately need," Iron Eyes told the roughly 450 delegates who endorsed him by unanimous ballot at the Bismarck Event Center.
Democrats said Iron Eyes is the first Native American endorsed candidate from either party to run for U.S. House or Senate.
In what may have been another first for the party, longtime state Rep. Eliot Glassheim of Grand Forks accepted the nod for U.S. Senate from his home via interactive video.
Glassheim said in an interview that a friend called him Friday asking if he would run for the seat currently held by Sen. John Hoeven, who received the GOP nod to seek a second six-year term.
The 78-year-old former bookstore owner has served in the state House since 1993 and also served during the 1975 session. He announced in January he would not seek re-election in District 18, after a hospital stay during the 2015 session for what doctors believed was a mild stroke.
Glassheim has been treated for lung cancer, but he said his latest scan was clear.
"The oncologist said no real visible signs of cancer. I'm feeling good," he said.
Asked if he's confident he'd be able to serve a full six-year term, Glassheim, known for his razor wit, said, "You never know when you're going to be hit by a bus."
Dem-NPL Executive Director Robert Haider said Glassheim "has an encyclopedic knowledge of the state of policy" and "can go toe-to-toe with anybody when it comes to that."
Glassheim, a self-described moderate who served 30 years on the Grand Forks City Council, said he wants to challenge Hoeven on several issues, including gun control, Social Security and climate change with regard to oil and coal.
"I want reasonable solutions to real problems," he said.
With his wife and two of their three children behind him, Iron Eyes wasted no time addressing his criminal history, saying he had developed a serious alcohol problem and had "hit rock bottom." He was convicted of four felonies and served 10 months in a minimum security prison for a 2002 incident in which he was accused of stealing a car, breaking into a house and taking shotguns from it.
Now a decade sober, the 38-year-old credited two things for turning his life around.
"I became a family man and I realized that the powers of creation were giving me a second chance," he said.
An enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, he said he must reach out to "true blue" Democrats and young adults and "mobilize the Native American vote like we've never done before" to beat Cramer.
One reason he jumped into the race was Cramer's "cozying up to Donald Trump," he said, drawing boos from delegates at the mention of the GOP frontrunner.
"I don't even need to say any more. We represent the antithesis to fear, to ignorance, to hate," he said, bringing the crowd to its feet.
Democrats also endorsed Rep. Marvin Nelson of Rolla for governor and Sen. Joan Heckaman of New Rockford for lieutenant governor on Friday but failed to field candidates for four statewide races: state treasurer, auditor, insurance commissioner and Public Service Commission, offices all currently held by Republicans.
Delegates authorized the party's executive committee to endorse candidates for those races, should any step forward before the April 11 deadline for filing to get on the June 14 primary ballot.
Chairwoman Kylie Oversen said the party will do its best to fill the spots.
"And if we can't, we certainly have a lot of energy around the other races that we have, and they will carry us through all the way to November," she said.
Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.