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Forum editorial: Cramer brews up bitter tea

The divisions in the North Dakota Republican Party became clearer a few days ago when two former party executives (not one, two) reinforced their break with the party. No matter how party regulars - or the new irregulars - spin it, the news is no...

The divisions in the North Dakota Republican Party became clearer a few days ago when two former party executives (not one, two) reinforced their break with the party. No matter how party regulars - or the new irregulars - spin it, the news is not good for Republicans.

When Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer bolted from the U.S. House endorsement process a few weeks ago, it was greeted with muted but obvious anger and bitterness.

Cramer is a former party executive and chairman. After decades of party loyalty during which he won endorsements for several runs for statewide office, Cramer decided to ditch the 2012 endorsing convention and run as a Republican in the June primary against the party-endorsed candidate. His move was unprecedented in the state's political history.

As if to further stick his thumb in the party's collective eye, Cramer named Gary Emineth, another former chairman and executive director, as his campaign manager. Emineth has been lately identified with the tea party wing of the North Dakota GOP.

All this suggests divisions in the party that are deep and worrisome for party regulars. Cramer and Emineth had good runs as party leaders, yet they readily jumped ship to establish what seems to be a Republican/tea party organization that is both dismissive and disdainful of the party they both once led.

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Cramer insists he thought long and hard about going it alone. He believes rank-and-file Republicans should have a broader opportunity to endorse a candidate than what insiders at a convention allow. That's a curious position because Republicans have been very successful. They've held the governor's office for nearly a generation. They own all but one state constitutional office. They count huge majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

Not good enough? If that record is not political success, nothing is.

Cramer's motivation, therefore, has to be more than Republican priorities. Having been passed over last time for the U.S. House endorsement, he made a calculation that he wouldn't get it this time either. He believes he has the right stuff to represent North Dakota in Congress, so that sentiment trumped the party loyalty that was so much of his political identity for a long time.

It's risky for Cramer, but if he loses he can retreat to his job on the PSC. But for the party, the fallout could be more serious. Cramer will compel the endorsed candidate to burn money in the primary, rather than reserve resources for the general election tilt against what are sure to be a well-funded, highly motivated Democratic candidate and Democratic Party.

When it's all over, Cramer and Emineth might be sipping cups of very bitter tea.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.

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