FARGO – Republican U.S. House candidate Kevin Cramer revealed today he plans to forgo the state nominating convention in March – a game-changing move that bucks the traditional political process for campaigns in North Dakota.
“This is not a business-as-usual election,” Cramer said this morning on AM1100 The Flag, a Fargo-based conservative talk radio station. “While I love my party and I’m a Republican, I’m seeking my party’s nomination and I decided to go directly to a vote of the entire Republican universe in North Dakota, inviting every Republican to participate in this process.”
By not seeking the GOP endorsement, Cramer places all his bets on winning the June primary, which will inherently pit him against whomever the party endorses this spring.
Well-known candidates in North Dakota rarely challenge the party endorsement, let alone skip participation in that process altogether.
Party loyalists have said such a move can fracture – rather than unite – voters in the June primary, which could potentially tip the advantage to another party’s candidate during a pivotal election year.
Cramer said his decision is not intended to divide the Republican Party, but rather allow for more participation in the process, since state endorsement conventions tend to draw the dedicated party base.
“I don’t have any heartburn about the process,” Cramer said. “I don’t have an axe to grind with the Republican Party process. My intent is to open the door for everyone to be involved in the process.”
Besides Cramer, seven other candidates – including five Republicans – are seeking the chance to be North Dakota’s next U.S. representative: Democrat Pam Gulleson, libertarian Eric Olson and Republicans Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, former state commerce commissioner Shane Goettle, Fargo legislator Bette Grande, West Fargo legislator Kim Koppelman and Minot resident DuWayne Hendrickson.
The rumor mill was churning rampantly Wednesday about Cramer’s expected decision. Cramer did not return multiple messages from The Forum seeking comment, later citing his planned radio announcement this morning.
Cramer’s anticipated move was surprising to many in GOP circles when they heard the news Wednesday.
Several acknowledged, though, it’s also not totally out of left field.
At a debate in December, Cramer and Grande were the only GOP candidates to say they’d be willing to run in the June primary if they didn’t earn the party endorsement.
“I don’t intend to run in the primary if I don’t win the endorsement, but at the same time, I never completely shut that door, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Cramer said in an interview with The Forum last month.
Cramer said this morning his decision came after much thought and reflection, and “it’s a decision I’m really at peace with.”
State GOP Treasurer Robert Harms hadn’t heard of Cramer’s intentions earlier Wednesday afternoon, but he said party leaders were urging all candidates to participate in the convention process and respect the decision of the delegates.
Harms said it would be a risky move for Cramer if the speculation proved true.
“I don’t think it really has much of an effect on the convention process, but I think it’s a potential risk to the candidate,” Harms said. “I’ve always counseled (candidates): If you go outside the convention process, it’s likely the death knell of your political career if you’re not successful.”
Cramer has been campaigning on a platform of electability, arguing he’s the strongest candidate to take on Gulleson and also the best candidate to raise the amount of money needed for a competitive campaign.
Cramer announced Monday he’d raised more than $215,000 in contributions in 2011, the most of the three House candidates to so far report their year-end fundraising totals.
This is the fourth congressional bid for Cramer, a North Dakota Public Service Commissioner since 2003. He previously was unsuccessful when he sought the state’s U.S. House seat in 1996, 1998 and 2010.