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NDGOP chairman stresses party unity when dust settles

BISMARCK - As battles loom within the Republican Party over endorsements for a number of statewide and legislative contests, including a three-way race for governor, the state GOP chairman is urging unity when the dust settles.

Kelly Armstrong
Sen. Kelly Armstrong
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BISMARCK – As battles loom within the Republican Party over endorsements for a number of statewide and legislative contests, including a three-way race for governor, the state GOP chairman is urging unity when the dust settles.

"We're going to fight. We're going to debate. We're going to have vigorous conversations, and there's going to be people competing against other Republicans for slots," chairman Kelly Armstrong said Tuesday during a party luncheon in Bismarck, hours before GOP district conventions began in Fargo.

"The key to this is when we get through this whole process, we come together as Republicans," he added.

Of the nine statewide offices on the June 14 primary ballot – including governor, which is an open seat for the first time since 2000 because Gov. Jack Dalrymple isn't seeking re-election – at least two will be contested at the GOP state convention April 1-3 in Fargo.

Seeking the endorsement for governor are Bismarck state Rep. Rick Becker, Fargo businessman Doug Burgum and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Becker and Stenehjem have said they will abide by the party's endorsement, but Burgum said he intends to run in the primary whether he wins the nod or not.


Delegates also will decide between two GOP hopefuls for state auditor, former Bismarck Tribune publisher Brian Kroshus and Public Service Commission accounting manager Josh Gallion.

GOP Executive Director Roz Leighton said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler also could face an endorsement challenge from Joe Chiang, a teacher at Four Winds High School in Warwick. In a phone interview Tuesday, Chiang said "there is something being discussed" but it's informal at this point.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer doesn't face a declared challenger at this time – though perennial candidate DuWayne Hendrickson of Minot has a "Hendrickson for Congress 2016" Facebook page – and Leighton said she doesn't expect endorsement challenges for U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, state Treasurer Kelly Schmidt or Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak.

So far, Greater North Dakota Chamber Vice President Jon Godfread is the only GOP candidate for state insurance commissioner.

Leighton said Republicans will focus on protecting and picking up legislative seats, including in the Red River Valley, where a "pretty massive" voter identification project and get-out-the-vote effort is just getting under way.

With Republicans holding all statewide offices with the exception of U.S. Sen. Heitkamp, Democrats also plan to focus their efforts on legislative seats.

"We think we have a favorable map this year. There are a lot of Republican incumbents that we're looking forward to running against," Executive Director Robert Haider said.

Leighton noted Democrats had no announced candidates for statewide office as of Tuesday, and she praised how Republicans have come together to work on legislative races.


"When you don't have Democrats to fight with, you can sometimes fight with yourselves," she said.

Haider said the party is confident it will have candidates for all statewide races, and "as soon as they're ready, they'll be announcing." Democrats' district conventions begin Feb. 16.

Leighton said she expects about 2,000 delegates to the GOP state convention, about the same as in 2012.

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