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N.D. GOP Expecting Competitive House Race

ZUMA Press/Newscom
Freshman Rep. Rick Berg has been serving just a few months. But the Republican is likely to jump into North Dakota’s Senate race, prompting a free-for-all contest for his seat.

However, Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk (R) told Roll Call that won’t be the case for him. The only announced candidate in the Senate race, Kalk declared: “We’re in it to win — period, end of sentence.” He added he will “absolutely not” run for the House if Berg runs for Senate.

Robert Harms, a local tea party leader and former state GOP treasurer, was primarily considering the Senate race until a few weeks ago. Now he’s looking at both races and expects to make a decision by the end of summer. He called Berg “a good friend” but stopped short of saying he would not run against him in a primary.

“Rick’s attitude, as is mine, is that competition in any of those races is a good thing,” Harms said. “Competition produces a better candidate and a better public servant.”

Berg already has one political enemy: the conservative Club for Growth, which takes positions in party primaries.

The group last week said voters “should demand better” than Berg for Senate given their criticism of several spending votes he’s taken since coming to Washington, D.C.

In all likelihood, the party’s GOP nominee will be picked at its March convention in Bismarck. At the convention, at least 1,200 delegates from 47 state legislative districts will endure what is likely to be several rounds of balloting to pick their nominee by majority vote.

To prepare for the convention, candidates will often spend many of the preceding months trekking through small towns in the frigid North Dakota winter to speak to delegates.

Paul Wilson, a Republican consultant who has attended every North Dakota convention for two decades, said it’s highly unusual for a candidate to buck the party pick at the convention and run in the primary. 

“You drive around night after night, meeting after meeting, speaking to delegates,” Wilson said. “Having this long, drawn-out, deep-winter process, they don’t take kindly to you saying, ‘Oh, and I’m going to go on and run in the primary.’”

“It’s quite the process, especially this time,” Wilson continued. “Because now, for the first time, you have a full-throated race with people realizing that ‘if I get the nomination, I could be the Congressman.’ This time will be much different.”

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