MINOT, N.D. — The executive committee of the North Dakota Republican Party has voted 10 -2 to delay their endorsement in North Dakota's race for superintendent of schools until after the June primary.
But that's not a final decision. NDGOP Chairman Rick Berg tells me the executive committee's decision will need to be approved by the full state committee. The executive committee includes the state party leadership and top Republican elected officials. The state committee includes district-level party leadership as well.
This is all a bit complicated, so let's go through what this means.
First, North Dakota's superintendent position isn't officially partisan. Unlike other statewide offices like governor or attorney general, the June primary vote for superintendent isn't split up into Republican candidates and Democratic candidates. The top two vote-getters on the ballot advance to the November election.
Traditionally the two parties endorse a candidate anyway. Current Superintendent Kirsten Baesler has enjoyed the NDGOP's endorsement in past cycles. Her predecessor, Wayne Sanstead, was supported by the Democrats.
In the past, superintendent candidates seeking the NDGOP's endorsement would petition for the opportunity to address the state convention. This requires the signatures of five of the party's district chairs. The candidate(s) would then speak to the NDGOP's state delegates, who would vote. The winner got a letter of endorsement from the party though, again, there is no official partisan designation on the ballot.
Which brings us to the decision the NDGOP's executive committee just made.
They've opted to delay their endorsement until after the June primary.
Why? When I spoke to Berg about it, he referenced "all the uncertainty" in the race and the fact that the state party had received requests from Republicans to postpone.
The uncertainty, though Berg was hesitant to come right out and say this, clearly has to do with Baesler's recent arrest on suspicion of drunk driving, a matter in which criminal charges are still possible (in an interview yesterday Baesler told me she's pleading guilty to whatever comes).
"The committee opted to do the letter at our summer meeting," Berg told me, which will take place after the June primary vote. This would have the NDGOP endorsing whoever survives in June for the November ballot.
"We'll let anyone who is qualified present at the convention," Berg added.
Currently, that includes one person: Charles Tuttle of Minot, who isn't seen as a very competitive candidate (or wasn't, before Baesler's legal troubles) and has been actively campaigning at local district conventions.
Baesler told me via text message this morning that she plans to turn in her signatures to the state party at noon today.
The deadline for candidates who wish to speak at the state convention is March 8.
To summarize, assuming the NDGOP's state committee votes the same way the executive committee has, the NDGOP would have superintendent candidates address the state convention, but delegates at that convention would not get to vote. Instead, the NDGOP's leadership would choose a candidate to endorse from among the two who survive the June primary.
All of this seems like an odd choice for a party which has, historically, emphasized the importance of convention delegates choosing candidates. Party leadership has chafed at decisions by candidates like Senator Kevin Cramer, and Governor Doug Burgum, who have opted to skip the convention (Cramer) or ignore it's decision (Burgum) and take their campaigns to the June primary.
But now the party is potentially going to deny the delegates an opportunity to choose in a statewide race?
Shane Goettle, a NDGOP national committeeman, told me the decision is about what could be an "expanding field" of candidates in the race.
"People don't normally run against an incumbent," he told me. "But in this case the incumbent is down and that may lure others in."
He said the intent is not to deny convention delegates an opportunity to choose, but rather to ensure that all candidates who potentially enter the race get consideration before the party chooses.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.