BISMARCK — With all the votes from last week's mail-in primary election counted, Fargo lawmaker Thomas Beadle has won the Republican nomination in an unusually contentious race for North Dakota state treasurer.
Beadle received 52% of the vote, beating his colleague in the state House of Representatives, Dan Johnston, R-Kathryn, who ended up with 47% of the vote.
Results from the night of the election were incomplete, and many races were too close to call because ballots could still be counted until Monday, June 15, as long as they were postmarked by the day before the election.
County canvassing boards across the state counted about 4,000 more ballots when they met Monday, bringing the turnout of the election to 158,258. The turnout is the second-highest in a North Dakota primary election after 2012, when more than 175,000 residents cast ballots. The State Canvassing Board must certify the results at its Friday meeting.
Beadle will take on Democrat Mark Haugen in the November general election. Republican Treasurer Kelly Schmidt, who endorsed Johnston, announced last year she would not seek a fifth term at the post.
The treasurer's office is one of the smallest in state government with just eight full-time employees, but the Republican primary race for the position was a magnet for big-name endorsements and high-dollar donations.
As the campaign began ramping up about two months ago, Gov. Doug Burgum threw his weight and money behind Beadle. The first-term governor cut a $25,000 check to Beadle's campaign and put nearly $1.9 million of his personal fortune into a political committee called the Dakota Leadership PAC that paid for advertisements and mailings in support of Beadle and several candidates for legislative seats.
Johnston brought his own firepower to the race with the support and financial backing of U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and a surprise tweet endorsement from President Donald Trump.
Cramer told Forum News Service he suggested to Trump that he publicly back Johnston after mailings in support of Beadle featured photoshopped pictures of Trump with the Fargo Republican. Cramer's political committees contributed more than $45,000 to Johnston's campaign.
Beadle said he was "thrilled" by the result and acknowledged how unusual this year's primary was. He said the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, all mail-in election and enormous interest in a down-ballot primary made for "unique" circumstances. Johnston could not be reached for comment in time for publication, but Beadle said Monday night he had not heard from his opponent with a concession.
The Burgum-funded committee also spent heavily in a legislative district just north of Bismarck, where powerful House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer was looking to fend off Republican newcomers David Andahl and Dave Nehring. The committee supported "the two Daves" with promotional media and targeted Delzer with negative advertising.
Delzer came up short in Monday's results, winning only 22% of the vote, compared to Nehring's 30% and Andahl's 29%. Nehring and Andahl will move on to the November general election, where they will face Democratic-NPL candidates Linda Babb and Kathrin Volochenko.
The highly competitive races for Delzer's seat and the treasurer's office have laid bare the ideological divisions in the party, as Burgum-backed candidates take on established legislators and those, like Johnston, who are aligned with the ultra-conservative Bastiat Caucus.
Burgum has never publicly expressed that he would like to unseat Delzer, but there has been friction between the two politicians over a rule change in the budgeting process. The Bastiats, led by Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, voted against many of Burgum's favored initiatives and projects.
Several prominent Republicans, including House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and former Gov. Ed Schafer, criticized Burgum for his heavy involvement in the primaries.
Pollert said Burgum's financial maneuvering suggests he is trying to do away with the separation of powers. The Carrington Republican noted that the relationship between the Legislature and the governor's office, which was already somewhat shaky, will likely suffer heading into the next legislative session in January.
Burgum said of his spending in the primary races that "competition is a good thing" and his financial backing is leveling the playing field for candidates like Andahl and Nehring who do not have the built-in advantage of incumbency. He also denied any friction in his relationship with the Legislature.
Legislative primaries decided
In the District 28 House race, incumbent and locally endorsed Republicans Mike Brandenburg and Jeff Magrum beat Jim Grueneich, who recently moved to the district in south-central North Dakota after serving as a state representative for the Jamestown area.
The Burgum-funded committee targeted Magrum, who is aligned with the Bastiat Caucus. Magrum and Brandenburg will go on to face Democratic-NPL candidate Rebecca Phillips in November, but one of the two Republicans is now almost guaranteed a seat.
In a district that encompasses most of the area between Fargo and Grand Forks, Bastiat-aligned Rep. Aaron McWilliams, R-Hillsboro, fell short against locally endorsed newcomers Mike Beltz and Jared Hagert. McWilliams was elected in 2017 when he ran as the only Republican in the district.
Beltz and Hagert will face off with Democratic-NPL candidates John Martin Pederson and Zachary Blotsky.
In the District 12 House race, incumbent Rep. Bernie Satrom and recently appointed Republican Mitch Ostlie beat Grant Christensen for the Republican nomination. The margin between Ostlie and Christensen was just 54 votes. Satrom and Ostlie will face Democrats George Barnes and Pam Musland in November.