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ND Republicans should not be too confident

GRAND FORKS — Observations in the wake of the North Dakota Republican Party endorsement convention in Grand Forks:

Secretary of State Al Jaeger's defeat for the endorsement by Mandan businessman Will Gardner was a blot on the party. At the convention, Gardner ramped up his campaign of misrepresentations and untruths about Jaeger's office. For example, he quoted one of Jaeger's "employees" as saying technology needed upgrading. But she's not worked for Jaeger for three years, during which time tech upgrades were funded and implemented — to be operational this summer.

Gardner suggested the entire business community was up in arms about Jaeger's alleged lack of progress with IT improvements. The truth is that several major businesses and business associations had praised Jaeger for taking care to ensure the new systems are state of the art, and they are. Here's a question: When Gardner wins, which is likely, will he take credit for the IT modernization Jaeger accomplished?

A Republican win in North Dakota is never a surprise. But it won't be about Gardner's qualifications. He has few. It will be about the "R" after his name.

Ever loyal to his party, Jaeger won't challenge Gardner in the June primary, a contest the secretary could have won. Jaeger's conduct throughout the intra-party dustup was honorable. Gardner's was not.

Tom Campbell got the message. The state senator/potato farmer/banker from Grafton had his potato sack handed to him at the convention when delegates endorsed Dickinson state Sen. Kelly Armstrong. Campbell was unchastened. He filed to challenge Armstrong in the June primary. Last Wednesday, he rethought that strategy, or had it rethought for him. He bowed out. Smartest move he's made since he got into the arena.

Campbell's political dance had a two-left-feet feel to it. He was early to the U.S. Senate race. Then the big dog, Congressman Kevin Cramer, who days before proclaimed he was a "man of the House," turned his back on the House; and with a flattering prompt from an acquaintance of Stormy Daniels, slithered into the Senate race against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. Not to be denied, Campbell shifted his ambition to the House. But, after spending a reported $500,000 in name-recognition advertising, which did not lift him out of obscurity, the convention backed Armstrong, another obscure legislator. The difference? Republicans said — off the record — that Campbell's legislative performance was mediocre; Armstrong's was outstanding. Campbell's left-foot shuffle continues, however, because he filed for the primary and by law his name will be on the ballot.

Campbell was willing to spend a truckload of money to buy public office. It bought him nothing. Now the test is whether the party will step up to help Armstrong. He should expect no less.

Meanwhile, the Democratic House candidate, former state senator Mac Schneider, ought to enjoy the Republican bloodletting while he can. It won't last. Schneider faces the headwinds of North Dakota's political climate. Be assured: Schneider will be a formidable campaigner. He's ready to take on Armstrong.

At this point, no safe bets on this one.

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