Commentary: Days before convention, GOP hopefuls jockey for bona fides, delegates

Kelly Armstrong can't dislike Washington, D.C. enough.Tom Campbell can't love President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence enough.Paul Schaffner can't believe Congress has abdicated its responsibilities enough.And they all love guns. They...

Kelly Armstrong can't dislike Washington, D.C. enough.

Tom Campbell can't love President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence enough.

Paul Schaffner can't believe Congress has abdicated its responsibilities enough.

And they all love guns. They were united in that. And, actually, most things.

Those were the quick takeaways from a North Dakota Republican U.S. House candidate forum held Monday, April 2, at the Fargo Holiday Inn. Armstrong, Campbell and Schaffner are among five candidates hoping to be endorsed at the GOP state convention this weekend in Grand Forks. The other two candidates, Tiffany Abentroth and DuWayne Hendrickson, were invited but did not attend.


If the three candidates hoped to separate themselves from one another in hopes of attracting undecided delegates heading into the weekend, which promises an interesting and likely close battle between front-runners Armstrong and Campbell, they didn't appear to give the 70 or so people in attendance much help.

As expected, the forum was pretty much a contest to see who could be more conservative and hit on more popular Republican themes of small government, cutting taxes and the evils of Washington, D.C.

Armstrong hammered on the theme-on pretty much every answer he gave-that North Dakota's biggest problem is D.C.

"Whatever problems we have don't originate in North Dakota, they originate in Washington, D.C.," Armstrong said.

The joke to be inserted here is that Armstrong hates D.C. so much he wants a job there.

Campbell kept returning to the home base the Grafton banker/farmer has been touching since he began campaigning for a federal job back in August, when he thought he was going to run for U.S. Senate before making the switch to U.S. House when Rep. Kevin Cramer jumped into the Senate race: He supports Trump's agenda, even if there's a chance it might hurt North Dakota.

Campbell said he supports Trump's tariffs "reluctantly and cautiously" and hopes they won't hurt the state.

Campbell said several times he wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, while also saying he supports immigration because people new to this country "will do jobs that our people won't do."


But Campbell apparently prefers European immigrants coming to North Dakota because he said people from northern countries really love coming here. He said he wants immigrants who "live our culture and speak our language." Campbell didn't offer a solution on how to attract English-speaking immigrants who like hockey.

Schaffner, the longshot at the Holiday Inn, was probably the most interesting and least focused. The libertarian-leaning coach from Minot who played football at North Dakota State and was busted for trying to solicit a prostitute in a sting last year, exhibited the most independence. While Armstrong and Campbell couldn't praise Trump's hope of boosting military spending enough, Schaffner spoke often of having a "respect for money" that included questioning the U.S. involvement in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. He also hammered the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill recently passed by Congress and signed by the president.

Armstrong, too, said he would've voted against the spending bill because it didn't have enough things in it that Republicans campaigned on and representatives didn't have a chance to read the bill before voting on it.

It was a rare moment for any of the candidates to depart from the Trump and Republican agenda. Many of the other questions, some posed by audience members, were strictly boilerplate. The candidates all support the Second Amendment (shocker), oppose abortion (shocker) and will work hard to defeat the Democratic-NPL candidate Mac Schneider (shocker).

What wasn't answered was who was going to come out of Grand Forks as the candidate. Scuttlebutt among some Republicans is that Armstrong has an advantage in delegates, but Campbell will be close.

If that's the way the convention turns out, the race will not be over. While Armstrong said definitively that he will not run in the primary if he's not chosen at the convention, Campbell said he would. This might not be finished until June, meaning Republicans will get to hear more how much Armstrong dislikes D.C. and Campbell loves Trump and Pence.

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Mikkel Pates set the standard for agricultural journalism during his 44-year career in the region, working for Agweek, The Forum and the Worthington Globe.