Air Force vet, anti-immigration candidate jumps into ND U.S. Senate race

NIAGARA, N.D.-Thomas O'Neill, an Air Force veteran and an assistant pastor for multiple North Dakota churches, said on Friday that he plans to seek a U.S. Senate seat in 2018, for which he will run as a Republican.O'Neill, who lives in Niagara in...
Thomas O'Neill, an Air Force veteran, is running as a Republican in North Dakota's U.S. Senate race. Sam Easter / Forum News Service

NIAGARA, N.D.-Thomas O'Neill, an Air Force veteran and an assistant pastor for multiple North Dakota churches, said on Friday that he plans to seek a U.S. Senate seat in 2018, for which he will run as a Republican.

O'Neill, who lives in Niagara in far northeast North Dakota., plans to launch his campaign on Tuesday. He is running a one-man campaign on guns, immigration and the federal budget.

"I think I can do a better job than the people that are up there now," he said, explaining that he disagrees with laws he says infringe on the Second Amendment. "I think the Constitution is being ignored on a daily basis."

O'Neill has conservative views on the federal budget, expressing worry about excessive spending, as well as right-of-center ideas on immigration.

"These anchor babies," he said. "If we're going to go ahead and (give) amnesty to illegal immigrants, are we going to give amnesty to bank robbers and child molesters? ... It's about law and order."

O'Neill, 57, attended high school in Forest City, Penn., and joined the Air Force, serving throughout the country before leaving after 20 years as an avionics communications and navigation technician at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Following his military career, he worked a series of jobs, from his own insulation company to Grand Forks County corrections officer. He is now retired.

O'Neill has served as mayor for one term and council member for two in Niagara in the 1990s and early 2000s. He is also an assistant pastor for churches in Park River and Michigan, N.D. He has a 14-year-old son, and his wife died of breast cancer in 2016.

Though O'Neill speaks of facing incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in the general election-who is facing a primary challenge from Driscoll, N.D., firefighter Dustin Peyer-he'll first have to make it through his own party's primary. Sen. Tom Campbell of Grafton is also running for the U.S. Senate.

"I am not a rich guy by any means, but I tell you what: I have God on my side, and that's all I need," O'Neill said.

O'Neill's campaign will officially launch at a 10 a.m. event at the Ramada Inn in Grand Forks on Tuesday.