Targeted by Gov. Doug Burgum, powerful North Dakota lawmaker loses primary

In the night’s most anticipated legislative race, House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer appears to have lost his bid for reelection in District 33, which extends from north of Bismarck west to Mercer County.

Photo: Rep. Jeff Delzer (R-Underwood) John Hageman photo
North Dakota Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer chairs a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee at the state Capitol on March 14, 2019.
Forum News Service file photo
We are part of The Trust Project.

BISMARCK — Voters across North Dakota weighed in on a number of high-profile primary races that could alter the ideological balance of the state Legislature.

The recent redistricting process means more legislative seats are on the ballot this year than usual, and two dozen races for the House and Senate were contested in the Tuesday, June 14, primary. All legislative candidates running in the Fargo area were unopposed.

In the night’s most anticipated legislative race, powerful House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer appears to have lost his bid for reelection in District 33, which extends from north of Bismarck west to Mercer County.

With voting totals coming in just after midnight, newcomer Anna Novak and incumbent Rep. Bill Tveit appear to have prevailed over Delzer and two other candidates. Novak got 25% of the vote, Tveit got 24% and Delzer got 22%.

The top two Republicans in the five-way race will move on to the general election where they will not be opposed by any Democratic candidates.


Screen Shot 2022-05-19 at 3.31.48 PM.png
The Dakota Leadership PAC, a campaign finance group funded by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, paid for dozens of mailers and multimedia ads in support of legislative candidates Mark Pierce and Anna Novak.
Photo provided by Rep. Bill Tveit

Delzer’s apparent loss marks a likely ending to Gov. Doug Burgum’s efforts to unseat the Underwood lawmaker.

Dakota Leadership PAC, a campaign finance group funded mostly by Burgum, successfully targeted Delzer in the 2020 GOP primary, but the district committee later reappointed Delzer to the seat after one of the candidates who defeated him died unexpectedly.

This year, Burgum has poured more than $1.2 million of his personal fortune into the Dakota Leadership PAC, which has heavily promoted Novak and another newcomer, Mark Pierce, with advertising.

The two major players in North Dakota politics have frequently clashed on state spending matters.

Delzer could not be reached for comment Wednesday after midnight.

Burgum said in a statement on Wednesday that "last night’s elections saw healthy and spirited competition which is a win for North Dakota voters."

“We saw tremendous victories in districts across North Dakota with conservative reformers who will work together to move North Dakota forward," Burgum added.

With Delzer slated to leave office in November, the Legislature will be without its four most powerful members from the last two legislative sessions.


House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner are set to retire at the end of their terms, and former Senate Appropriations Leader Ray Holmberg resigned earlier this month following a Forum report that he exchanged text messages with a man accused of child pornography crimes.

In the district’s Senate race, Mandan area conservative Keith Boehm appears to have won against Sen. Jessica Unruh-Bell, R-Beulah, by a 53% to 47% margin despite Unruh-Bell's hefty campaign spending. The winner of the race will push through to the general election unopposed.

In Minot’s District 3, newcomer Lori VanWinkle led ultraconservative Rep. Jeff Hoverson and former Rep. Roscoe Streyle with all precincts reporting. The top two candidates will move forward, but the race for second triggered an automatic recount: Hoverson led Streyle by just one vote.

Republicans in Bismarck’s District 35 had a choice between two first-time candidates and they appeared to choose Sean Cleary, a favorite of moderates, over Ryan Eckroth, who aligns more with ultraconservatives. Cleary received 70% of the vote to Eckroth’s 30%.

In November, Cleary will face Democratic Sen. Tracy Potter, who took over for Erin Oban when she resigned earlier this year.

In District 8, which extends from north of Bismarck to the South Dakota border, two Republican representatives battled for the open Senate seat.

Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, appeared to beat Rep. Dave Nehring, R-Bismarck. Magrum had received 57% of the vote to Nehring's 43%. There are no Democratic-NPL candidates in the race.

Magrum is considered one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, and Nehring has been supported by Burgum’s political committee.


In Richland County’s District 25, three incumbent Republican lawmakers vied for two slots in the House race. Reps. Cindy Beck and Kathy Skroch appeared to emerge victorious over Sen. Jason Heitkamp, an ultraconservative who decided to run for the lower chamber due to redistricting.

The two Republicans will run against Democratic incumbent Rep. Alisa Mitskog in November.

Republicans in District 20, which includes rural Grand Forks County and Traill County, appeared to choose Randy Lemm over Robert Fors in a Senate race between two incumbents who were placed in the same district due to redistricting. Lemm received 73% of the vote to Fors’ 26%.

Reps. Mike Beltz and Jared Hagert appeared to beat Republican challenger Craig Jarolimek to keep their seats in the district’s three-way House race.

In other contested races:

  • Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr, appeared to beat Rep. Sebastian Ertelt, R-Gwinner, in District 28’s GOP primary race for Senate.
  • Incumbent Reps. Mike Schatz, R-New England, and Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, appeared to beat their three challengers in District 39’s GOP primary race for House.
  • Donna Henderson, a newcomer from Calvin, appeared to beat incumbent Rep. Chuck Damschen, R-Hampden, by a narrow margin in House Subdistrict 9B.
  • Judy Estenson, a newcomer from Warwick, appeared to defeat incumbent Sen. Dave Oehlke, R-Devils Lake, in the District 15 Senate race.
  • In the District 31 GOP primary, longtime Rep. Jim Schmidt, R-Huff, appeared to have narrowly lost his bid for reelection. He trailed Rep. Karen Rohr and Dawson Holle with all precincts reporting.

The results reported by the North Dakota Secretary of State's Office on Tuesday are preliminary until confirmed by the State Canvassing Board following the election.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
What to read next
The Standing Rock and Fort Berthold reservations received the federal funds to repair and upgrade roadways.
The ambitious $10.4 billion plan was approved by the regional transmission organization that serves Minnesota and much of North Dakota, but will require regulatory approval.
The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program has been providing bosslift rides to various military bases and training sites.
The spill occurred due to a hole in the oil tank, according to department records. The Killdeer-based company is still working to clean up about 1,700 gallons of oil that were not immediately recovered.