Gardner still expected to drop out after winning GOP primary despite window-peeping charge

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FARGO — North Dakota Republican leaders reportedly have been informed by Will Gardner that he intends to follow through with his planned withdrawal from the secretary of state race.

Gardner, who was the endorsed GOP candidate and the only Republican on the ballot in the secretary of state race in the primary on Tuesday, June 12, came away with 93 percent of the vote.

In unofficial results, Gardner received 54,106 votes and voters cast 3,827 write-in votes, for a total of 57,933 votes in the Republican primary for secretary of state. Many voters skipped that race, however. By comparison, more than 63,000 votes were cast in the attorney general and agriculture commissioner races.

Despite Gardner's primary win, a spokesman for the Republicans said Wednesday that the candidate had been in touch since the primary and plans to withdraw, as he said he would after news reports surfaced last month that he was charged in connection with a window-peeping incident on the North Dakota State University campus in 2006, when he was 29.

"He's been in touch with party leaders, and he's going to make things official," said Dawson Schefter, chief of staff for the North Dakota Republican Party.

Gardner did not return a call from The Forum on Wednesday seeking comment.

John Arnold, director of elections for the North Dakota Secretary of State's Office, said that as of late Wednesday afternoon, the office hadn't received any official notification from Gardner, a Mandan businessman.

Gardner could be waiting for the state canvassing board to meet Friday, June 22, when the primary results become official, Arnold said.

Gardner staged a political upset when he beat fellow Republican Al Jaeger, who has held the office since 1993, at the GOP convention early this spring. After Gardner, a political newcomer, announced his plans to withdraw, Jaeger began circulating petitions in the hope of getting on the November ballot as an independent candidate for secretary of state.

The state GOP executive committee will meet Saturday, June 16, in Fargo and will decide whether to issue a letter of support for Jaeger's independent candidacy.

Jaeger, a former Fargo real estate broker who has been elected to seven terms, said he will present to the committee petition signatures that he's gathered so far to show support for his candidacy.

"The response has been quite frankly overwhelming," Jaeger said. "I hope I'm the only one" who will be seeking Republican letter of support in the race. "There could be others."