Republicans aim to unite around Cramer after House primary upset

FARGO – Following Tuesday’s upset in the GOP primary for North Dakota’s U.S. House race, Republicans were quick to rally behind the victorious challenger.

But North Dakota Democrats say Republicans’ display of unity only attempted to mask the “blatantly obvious” divide within their party after the contested primary.

Kevin Cramer did not seek the GOP endorsement this spring, which was won by Brian Kalk.

But although Kalk had the institutional support from the state party, it was Cramer who won the official nomination that North Dakota Republicans decided Tuesday by a nine-point margin.

In complete but unofficial results, Cramer carried 54 percent of the vote in the primary, while Kalk received 45 percent.

That result forced North Dakota Republican Party leaders to shift gears Wednesday and rally behind the candidate who some party loyalists felt snubbed the traditional endorsement process.

In a statement following Tuesday’s election, party chairman Stan Stein offered a message of optimism.

“North Dakota Republicans understand how important the 2012 elections are,” Stein said. “We will unite around our candidates and put together a first-class campaign operation to ensure we have strong, common-sense representation in D.C., and throughout the state.”

Kevin Cramer

Cramer echoed that sentiment in an interview with The Forum on Wednesday.

“While I chose a different route to the same destination, it’s still the same destination,” Cramer said, referring to his goal of a Republican victory in November.

“What I did by going through the primary process and having a true contest between two solid candidates, it generated excitement in our party that I would think that the other party would love to have,” Cramer said.

Democratic U.S. House candidate Pam Gulleson ran unopposed in Tuesday’s statewide primary.

Cramer pointed out that he received more votes in a contested primary than Gulleson received unopposed, a measure Cramer said reflects “a much higher level of enthusiasm” among North Dakota Republicans than Democrats.

Among Republicans, Cramer received 54, 273 votes, compared to Kalk who had 45,301. Gulleson received 51,649 votes from Democratic primary voters.

“Activism is really contagious and so is momentum,” Cramer said. “I think that’s what I have.”

But Democratic-NPL spokeswoman Alison Kelly said the fact that nearly as many Republicans voted for Kalk as they did Cramer reflects the visible ideological rift within the GOP.

Kelly also said that since North Dakota Democrats were united around one candidate from the get-go, Gulleson is actually the one with the momentum.

“The unity and our desire to work together toward one common goal – to build the future of North Dakota and make it better – that’s going to build into momentum,” Democratic-NPL Party spokeswoman Alison Kelly said. “Voters are going to know we’re not throwing partisan rhetoric at them.

“We’re offering ideas,” Kelly said, compared to what she called Cramer’s “tired” rhetoric.

Both Kalk and Cramer are state public service commissioners. Cramer said Wednesday, there’s no bad blood between them.

“When I was doing an interview this morning, Brian walked by and yelled, ‘Go Cramer!’” Cramer said. “It’s important to have his support, and of course, that was very gratifying to me.”

Cramer said he doesn’t think he’ll have any trouble uniting Republican voters, since he doesn’t believe that a vote for Kalk was inherently a vote against him.

“The distance between us is not that far,” Cramer said of the candidates’ philosophies. “We’ve got a grand opportunity in our party right now to lock arms with a united front.”

Late Tuesday, national Republicans were also quick to unite behind Cramer as their chance to keep North Dakota’s U.S. House seat in November.

“This seat strongly favors the Republican ideas of common sense and conservative solutions that Kevin Cramer stands for, and I am certain that North Dakota families will support him in November,” said Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Cramer has long been on the NRCC’s radar as an up-and-coming contender in the committee’s “Young Guns” program.

Candidates targeted by that program receive national campaign and financial support for their races. Cramer has “On the Radar” status in the program, the final tier before the “Young Guns” recognition.

Kalk also received “On the Radar” status in the “Young Guns” program after he won the state party’s endorsement April 1.