FARGO — Indicative of the attention to come in the contested U.S. Senate race, energy at the Cass County Republican Convention Thursday, Feb. 22, surrounded Rep. Kevin Cramer.
"This has been an incredible day for me," Cramer said to an estimated crowd of more than 300 Republicans gathered Thursday at PRACS Institute Offices in south Fargo.
Rather than seek re-election in the House of Representatives, Cramer announced earlier this month his intent to oust Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp — one of 10 Democrats in upcoming midterm elections running in states President Donald Trump won in 2016.
The meeting Thursday was for delegate endorsing among Cass County Republicans from Districts 11, 13, 16, 21, 22, 27, 41, 44, 45 and 46. District conventions endorse legislative candidates and elect delegates to the state convention, which endorses all other state and national candidates.
"This is the essence of what makes our democracy works," said former representative Rick Berg, who hosted Thursday's meeting.
Following candidate statements, people split off into their respective districts to begin discussion of who to endorse. Cass County United Republican Committee chair Brian Walters said not all districts would fill every delegate spot that evening, but the event is effective in bringing everybody together to network.
Walters said the Senate race has "changed dynamics of the party" and will be "closely watched." He added candidates from local and unopposed races were also there Thursday to meet constituents and talk of their values, such as Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.
The Secretary of State race is also contested with incumbent Al Jaeger, who has served as secretary for 20 years, facing Republican challenger Will Gardner, of Mandan. The two Republicans are up against Fargo Democrat Rep. Josh Boschee, who along with Gardner, have criticized Jaeger for not having yet established online business registration, which Jaeger said he will do this summer.
Dane Ferguson, executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party, said Cramer's announcement to challenge Heitkamp has "created a whole new intensity in Republican politics in North Dakota."
Cramer's run for Senate opened up the U.S. House race to five Republicans, three of which spoke Thursday evening. Tiffany Abentroth said she has been labeled as the "mystery candidate" but she is not unfamiliar with leadership as a Marine veteran.
Tom Campbell said he switched from the Senate race to House to "make sure Kevin Cramer has all the energy and resources to unseat Heidi Heitkamp."
Kelly Armstrong, who announced Tuesday his resignation from the state GOP chair to fully embrace his run for Congress, said he couldn't be more proud of Cramer.
"He needs everyone's help in this room and we're here to do it," Armstrong said as folks held up Cramer signs and cheered.
Thomas O'Neill, an Air Force vet is also running for North Dakota U.S. Senate on a platform of law and order and anti-immigration.
The North Dakota Republican state convention is slated for April 6 to 8 in Grand Forks.