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Presidential hopeful Cruz to address ND GOP convention on Saturday; Carson on Sunday

BISMARCK - For local Republican district chairman John Trandem, Tuesday's news that presidential hopeful Ted Cruz will deliver the keynote address Saturday at the state GOP convention in Fargo isn't just good for the party. It's good for the enti...

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Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tx., speaks to the crowd at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield, Wisconsin March 29, 2016. Cruz's rally came minutes after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) announced his support of the Cruz campaign. REUTERS/Ben Brewer

BISMARCK – For local Republican district chairman John Trandem, Tuesday’s news that presidential hopeful Ted Cruz will deliver the keynote address Saturday at the state GOP convention in Fargo isn’t just good for the party. It’s good for the entire state.
“I think this brings to light just how consequential this election is and just how important a role North Dakota plays in it with 28 unbound delegates,” said Trandem, a Cruz supporter who chairs District 45 covering the north Fargo area. “The presidential sweepstakes may well be decided by 28 votes, and that puts North Dakota squarely in play, and that’s a position we’ve not occupied in the past.”

“It puts us on the national map,” he added.

Cruz, a freshman U.S. senator from Texas, will speak about 1 p.m. Saturday at Scheels Arena, state GOP Executive Director Roz Leighton said. Delegates will hear Sunday from former presidential hopeful Ben Carson, who has endorsed Cruz’s bitter rival, Donald Trump.
“I think it’s great that we’ve got presidential candidates and former candidates that are excited about North Dakota and coming here and speaking to our delegates,” Leighton said. “It just goes to show that North Dakota does in fact play a role in the presidential race.”
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who suspended his campaign March 4 and endorsed Trump a week later, will address the convention about 10:10 a.m. Sunday. The convention begins Friday.
“It’s great for our delegates, the national race, and just the energy around our convention is fantastic,” state party chairman Kelly Armstrong said.
For members of the public wanting to hear Cruz or Carson speak, Leighton said 800 tickets for the entire convention would be made available to the public online later Tuesday on a first-come, first-serve basis at a cost of $25 per person. More than 1,700 delegates are expected to attend.
In the race for the GOP nomination, Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich trail Trump as the candidates try to lock up a majority of the 2,472 delegates to the Republican National Convention in July to become the presumptive nominee. Trump leads with 739 delegates, followed by Cruz with 465 and Kasich with 143.
North Dakota will send 28 national delegates to Cleveland: three automatic selections in Armstrong, national committeeman Curly Haugland and national committeewoman Sandy Boehler, and 25 delegates who will be endorsed during the state convention.
Under state party rules, North Dakota’s delegates are not bound to any candidate, which has party officials excited that the delegates could play a key role on the first ballot of a contested convention.
“People think there’s a real chance. … I think that plays a part in it,” Armstrong said of the state convention attracting interest from the presidential campaigns.
The lack of primaries in other states this weekend also helped land big-name speakers, said Armstrong, a state senator from Dickinson.
“We’d always known we were in a soft spot in the presidential cycle, so we were always optimistic,” he said.
Armstrong said he has decided which presidential candidate he’s supporting but won’t say who it is.
The only publicly released statewide polling on the race, conducted Feb. 18-25 by St. Paul-based DFM Research for the labor union North Dakota United, found Trump leading in North Dakota with 27 percent, followed by Cruz with 19 percent.
More than 100 North Dakotans have applied to be national delegates, Armstrong said. The state party’s Committee on Permanent Organization will approve a slate of 25 recommended national delegates on Friday, and any of the applicants who don’t make the list can be nominated from the convention floor on Saturday.
Nominations will take place right after Cruz’s address, and delegates will vote on the nominees Sunday.
Armstrong said he’s not worried about the speakers overshadowing the convention’s focal point, a battle for the gubernatorial endorsement between Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Fargo businessman Doug Burgum and state Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck – the party’s first three-way race for governor since 1992.
“I don’t have any concern. I think at the end of the day the delegates are coming to be part of the convention,” he said, noting the governor’s race will have already been decided Saturday morning before Cruz speaks.
Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, a Cuban-born pastor, public speaker and campaign surrogate for his son, is visiting North Dakota this week. He spoke Monday in Fargo and was scheduled to speak Tuesday in Valley City, Jamestown and Bismarck.
Before being elected to the Senate, Ted Cruz served as solicitor general of Texas, making oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court nine times. He had previously worked for the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Justice and as domestic policy advisor on the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign, according to his official Senate bio.
Cruz is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He and his wife Heidi live in his hometown of Houston with two daughters.
Cruz and Trump have clashed in recent days over perceived slights against their spouses that each blamed on their opponent.

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