VIDEO: Kalk wins NDGOP’s contested U.S. House endorsement

Brian Kalk

BISMARCK – The early bird got the worm in the five-way race for North Dakota Republicans’ endorsement in this year’s U.S. House race.

After three ballots, state Republicans selected Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk as their endorsed nominee Sunday.

By a final vote of 929 to 676, Kalk beat out Shane Goettle, who got the second highest proportion in each of the three ballots cast at this weekend’s state Republican convention here.

After the first ballot, Kalk and Goettle were separated by only 15 votes, but with each subsequent ballot, Kalk’s lead over Goettle only widened.

Goettle conceded the nomination to Kalk shortly after the districts reported their votes on the third ballot.

He moved the convention to cast a unanimous vote in Kalk’s favor, which was enthusiastically supported by the 1,700 delegates.

Kalk said cited his strong network of grassroots’ support as the likely reason he came out on top in the five-way race.

Bette Grande, DuWayne Hendrickson, Kim Koppelman also sought the party’s endorsement Sunday but dropped out after the second ballot found them lacking competitive support.

Kalk praised his competitors in the hard-fought race.

Although Kalk has been campaigning for a seat in Congress for more than a year, he said Grande, Hendrickson, Koppelman and Goettle “worked as hard as we did in the past couple months” to earn delegates’ support.

In January 2011, Kalk initially launched a bid for U.S. Senate, aiming to challenge Democrat Kent Conrad.

However, after Conrad announced his retirement and Rep. Rick Berg declared his candidacy for the seat, Kalk switched to the House race in May.

Sunday’s endorsement process for the U.S. House race took four and half hours among the nominating speeches, the five candidates’ addresses to the convention, the three ballots and ultimately Kalk’s victory speech.

With their time on the stage before ballots were cast, each candidate promoted his or her strengths: Kalk with his success as a statewide candidate, Hendrickson with his unconventional campaign, Grande with her fighting spirit, Koppelman with his legislative experience and Goettle with his expertise on ag, business and energy issues.

In the first ballot, Kalk scored 15 more delegates than Goettle, leading the pack by a 625-610 split. Grande took a distant third with 241, followed by Koppelman who had 126 and Hendrickson, who finished with 39.

Kim Koppelman

Shortly after districts announced their second ballot, Hendrickson, Koppelman and Grande each conceded the race after another poor showing in the vote totals.

“I’m man enough to know I’m not going to win this race,” Hendrickson said, telling his supporters to turn their votes to Kalk or Grande

Koppelman didn’t give a preference as to who his delegates supported in the third round of balloting, but said “we will be there alongside the candidate you select – fully supporting the endorsed candidate in this election.”

Bette Grande

Grande lost several votes of support in the second round, including from her home district in Fargo, which went in Kalk’s favor on the first two ballots.

“I got into this race to make it more conservative … more about shaking up the party establishment,” she said, releasing her delegates  “to vote for whoever they believe is the most conservative in this race.”

“This race is about saving our nation, and it is a fight worth having,” Grande said, appearing emotional.

In seeking the endorsement, each candidate seemed cognizant of the challenges ahead and their ability to meet them – particularly the contested June primary against Republican Kevin Cramer, who didn’t participate in the endorsement process Sunday.

As the party’s endorsed nominee, Kalk receives the GOP’s full backing and resources in the primary. Whoever wins that contest will represent the Republican Party on the general election ballot.

Cramer announced in January he’d forgo the convention and participate in the June primary instead, which will be decided by a statewide vote.

Kevin Cramer

Although Cramer did not seek the party’s endorsement Sunday, he did address delegates Saturday afternoon in his role as a sitting public service commissioner.

Cramer’s five-minute speech touched on his successes as a state official and the dangers of regulatory overreach from Washington. Cramer delivered his speech with enthusiastic passion, almost akin to the stump speech he would’ve given had he sought the endorsement.

Cramer also seemed to acknowledge that, telling the delegates more than once how proud he was to be a Republican and a part of the NDGOP.

“I’m grateful beyond words at the support you’ve given me these past decades,” Cramer said to start his speech.

“I’m so proud to stand with you and carry the principles that shape our party,” Cramer said. “They are the principles we must be willing to not just whisper but proclaim. … 2012 is the year liberty itself is on the ballot.”

Pam Gulleson, the Democrats’ candidate in the U.S. House race, congratulated Kalk on his victory Sunday and supported his decision to go through the party convention to receive the endorsement.

“I congratulate Brian Kalk on seeking and receiving the ND GOP nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives,” Gulleson said. “While others in his party chose to overlook the delegates and activists, Mr. Kalk sought and won their endorsement.”

“I still believe in the convention process here,” she added. “Conventions are won with hard work and organization and they keep candidates honest by requiring one-on-one outreach. I’m sure Mr. Kalk agrees with me that the convention process makes us stronger candidates in the fall. There is plenty of time left for campaigning on our differences, but today, I congratulate Brian on his endorsement and wish him luck in the June primary.”