BISMARCK – North Dakota Republicans’ philosophical in-fighting bubbled to the surface Friday evening, about 12 hours before the state party convention was set to begin here at the Bismarck Civic Center.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Duane Sand and his guest, former presidential candidate Herman Cain, were asked to leave an informal reception for candidates and delegates last night at the Ramkota Hotel, where delegates are staying.
Sand is not seeking the convention’s Senate endorsement today, choosing to take his chances in the primary against the party’s presumed candidate, Rep. Rick Berg.
Nonetheless, Sand brought Cain into the state this weekend to help him raise funds in Fargo and Bismarck, a move that upset some party leaders.
At about 9 p.m. Friday, Fargo legislator and state House Majority Leader Al Carlson told Sand he was not welcomed at the candidates’ reception and asked him to leave.
“He’s the one who was very critical of the system and chose not to participate,” Carlson said this morning. “So if you’re not going to participate, then don’t show up and parade around.”
Sand’s campaign manager Joe Meyer responded to the incident, saying “The attitude presented by House Majority Leader Carlson is an example of the animosity within the party that led us to make the decision to forgo the convention.”
Carlson said Cain was welcomed to stay and meet with the candidates and delegates last night, but Sand’s presence particularly wasn’t received well by state Republicans.
Cain’s spokeswoman Kathy Hoekstra said Cain and Sand attended the social event at the invitation of U.S. House candidate Bette Grande.
“It was as simple as that,” she said on behalf of Cain, who was en route to Wisconsin after leaving North Dakota this morning.
“It is unfortunate that some people seem to have lost their focus on the bigger mission – that is winning Congress and defeating Barack Obama,” Hoekstra said. “Asking Mr. Sand to leave last night’s event only distracts from this mission, which we should all be on together.”
She added, “This event was at a public venue. It was a social event. Mr. Sand is a dues-paying member of the Republican Party, a delegate and even paid for space at the convention.”
However, NDGOP spokesman Matt Becker echoed Carlson’s concerns about Sand’s presence at the reception Friday night.
“It was odd for Duane to come to the same convention that he took himself out of, and it was odd for him to seek the support from the same people he said he didn’t need it from,” Becker said.
U.S. House candidate Kevin Cramer, who also isn’t seeking the party’s endorsement here, is being received without any apparent incident.
Cramer plans to make an appearance today at the actual convention, including an address to the convention in his role as one of the state’s public service commissioners.
Becker said the difference with Cramer is (a) he’s a statewide official and (b) he showed respect toward the delegates where Sand appeared to snub them.
“Kevin made his announcement in a much more respectful way,” Becker said.
Carlson – who supports Berg’s bid for the U.S. Senate – is one of the Republican leaders who hasn’t appreciated Sand’s handling of the convention process this year.
“He’s just been in your face the whole time, and if that’s the way he wants to play it, that’s fine,” Carlson said.