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Published April 02, 2014, 10:18 AM

Ag commissioner endorsement to cap ND GOP convention

The North Dakota GOP endorsement for state agriculture commissioner, which has incumbent Doug Goehring pitted against challenger Judy Estenson in what’s expected to be the hottest contest for the party nod, will cap the three-day convention, which begins Friday.

By: Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service

BISMARCK, N.D. — Like any good party planner, the North Dakota Republican Party has saved the biggest splash for the end of its state convention this weekend in Minot.

The endorsement for state agriculture commissioner, which has incumbent Doug Goehring pitted against challenger Judy Estenson in what’s expected to be the hottest contest for the party nod, will cap the three-day convention, which begins Friday.

More than 1,000 delegates have registered for the convention, party Executive Director Jason Flohrs said Tuesday. Delegates will take up the agriculture commissioner endorsement at 10:40 a.m. Sunday, shortly before the convention adjourns at noon.

Flohrs said he doesn’t know which way the race is leaning.

“Any time you’re a challenger, I think it’s a tough gig. But (Estenson) has had every opportunity to make her case and talk about what’s going on, and we’ll see where it comes out,” he said.

Estenson, a registered nurse who also operates a cattle and grain farm in rural Warwick with her husband, Hal, announced her bid for the endorsement in February.

North Dakota Farm Bureau leaders are supporting Estenson, saying they’ve lost confidence in Goehring, in part because of policy differences and complaints about what Goehring has acknowledged were “politically incorrect” actions and statements toward female staffers. The Menoken farmer has said he apologized to employees and addressed the issues through sensitivity training.

Goehring is a former vice president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau and past president of Nodak Mutual Insurance Co. After two unsuccessful runs for the office in 2006 and 2008, he was appointed agriculture commissioner in April 2009 and was elected to a four-year term in 2010 with Farm Bureau backing.

Like Flohrs, District 45 Chairman John Trandem of Fargo also said he’s “having a heck of a time” reading the race.

“Both candidates are really working hard on the delegates, because I get very regular phone calls. They’re both giving it all they’ve got,” he said Tuesday. “The fact of the matter is in endorsing conventions, a lot of minds are made up the day of the vote.”

Goerhing has said he will seek the nomination in the primary election if he loses the endorsement.

The eventual Republican candidate will square off in November against Democrat Ryan Taylor, a cattle rancher and former state senator from Towner who made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2012. Taylor received the Democratic-NPL Party’s endorsement at its state convention last weekend in Fargo.

Freshman U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer also could face an intraparty challenge in Minot from Republican DuWayne Hendrickson, who ran unsuccessfully as a write-in candidate in the 2010 and 2012 House races.

Cramer angered some Republicans in 2012 when he skipped the endorsing process and went straight to the primary ballot, where he defeated the party’s endorsed candidate, Brian Kalk, to win the nomination.

Trandem, who was a strong supporter of Kalk in 2012, said he now wholeheartedly supports Cramer and doesn’t detect any lingering resentment toward him.

“I think that Republicans realize that there’s a lot more to this than sour grapes or hard feelings and that we’re running against Democrats, we’re not running against other Republicans,” he said.

Democrats have endorsed state Sen. George B. Sinner of Fargo as their House candidate.

The GOP convention kicks off at 11 a.m. Friday at the Holiday Inn in Minot with meetings of the party’s Resolutions Committee and State Committee, which will establish the party’s platform. Flohrs said energy development and personal property rights are among the issues likely to emerge in resolutions.

Last weekend, Democrats called for more political balance in state government and better regulation of energy development. Flohrs acknowledged that the state has challenges associated with rapid oil and gas development, but he said Republican leadership has taken “huge strides” in starting to address the challenges, citing increased infrastructure investments in the western half of the state.

“These are challenges that are coming with growth and with opportunity,” he said.

The party’s priorities this election season include maintaining its current control of all statewide elected offices, preserving its two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers and building its grassroots capacity in a nonpresidential election year, Flohrs said. Republicans hold 20 of the 24 Senate seats up for grabs and 39 of the 48 House seats that will be on the November ballot.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will give the convention’s keynote address at about 2:40 p.m. Saturday at the North Dakota State Fair Center, which will host the convention activities Saturday and Sunday.

“We’ve very excited to have him,” Flohrs said.

Four endorsements are scheduled on Saturday, starting with the U.S. House and followed by three unchallenged incumbents: Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak for a two-year term and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

In addition to the agriculture commissioner endorsement, party nods on Sunday will go to Public Service Commission chairman Kalk for a six-year term and to Secretary of State Al Jaeger.

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