BISMARCK — A presidential endorsement has added another unlikely twist to an already remarkable race for North Dakota state treasurer.
President Donald Trump tweeted to more than 80 million followers on Sunday, May 24, his support for Republican State Rep. Dan Johnston, who is running for the position. Johnston said he was left "shocked and honored" by the nod from the White House.
Trump's endorsement of Johnston is unusual. The president isn't shy about throwing his weight behind candidates he favors, but normally that kind of vocal support is reserved for congressional or gubernatorial candidates. Johnston is running for a position that oversees just seven full-time employees.
Following the tweet, speculation flew that U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., had asked Trump to endorse his preferred candidate. Cramer's political action committee has contributed more than $22,000 to Johnston's campaign.
Cramer confirmed to Forum News Service that he suggested to Trump that he support Johnston.
In the tweet, Trump said "I always stand with leaders who weren't afraid to stand with me." Cramer said Johnston supported Trump's candidacy before "it was cool," which likely put him in good graces with the president.
Cramer said that a campaign mailer with Trump photoshopped next to Johnston's primary opponent, Rep. Thomas Beadle, tipped him over the edge. The widely distributed mailer shows Beadle next to photo of Trump near the words "Proven Conservative."
Several versions of the mailer were distributed by Dakota Leadership PAC, which is mostly funded by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Beadle supporter. Several other prominent state officials, including Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner have also endorsed Beadle.
Beadle said he has also sent out a mailer using his own campaign funds that notes his support for Trump. The Fargo Republican added after Trump's endorsement of his opponent that he continues to support the president and his agenda.
Cramer told Trump about the mailers and said the president wasn't happy about Beadle supporters using his image and likeness in campaign materials. For his part, Cramer said he doesn't know Beadle very well, but he called the mailers "a gross misrepresentation."
The senator added that Trump's endorsement could be a gamechanger for Johnston, who has far less financial support than Beadle. Cramer said he was significantly outspent in 2018 by Democratic opponent Heidi Heitkamp but that Trump's support proved crucial in North Dakota, where he is overwhelmingly popular.
Johnston said he will now look to turn Trump's endorsement into an electoral victory. Johnston said he saw a drastic uptick in traffic to his website following the endorsement, and he expects fundraising will be easier going forward with the president's blessing.
The state treasurer is responsible for overseeing state funds and handling certain matters of accounting and tax distribution and collections. The treasurer also sits on six statewide boards, including the State Investment Board and the Board of University and School Lands.
Voters will have their choice between Johnston and Beadle in the June 9 primary election, which is being conducted completely by mail due to concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak. The winner of the Republican nomination is likely to face Democratic-NPL candidate Mark Haugen in November.