- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - With two months remaining before the election, the challenger for North Dakota’s lone seat in the House of Representatives finds himself in an unusual position for a Democrat running statewide: He’s still in the race.

George B. Sinner is challenging freshman Rep. Kevin Cramer in a Republican-leaning state where GOP incumbents rarely encounter difficulty in keeping their jobs. Republicans control the Legislature and hold every top level office but one - Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s U.S. Senate seat.

However, Sinner, 61, who has worked as a banker and agribusiness executive, is running a well-funded campaign that has benefited from his familiar North Dakota name and healthy fundraising. Sinner’s father, George A. Sinner, was North Dakota’s governor from 1985 to 1992.

At the end of June, Sinner had $273,846 on hand, well short of Cramer’s $653,399 but enough to compete.

He also takes encouragement from his own election to the state Senate, which he says shows Democrats still have a chance.

“People in North Dakota are pragmatic, and what we’ve seen for decades, is that people care more about being represented than about labels,” Sinner said.

Cramer, 53, said he expects the campaign to intensify in the next few weeks because Sinner can go on the air.

“I expect that right after Labor Day he will come out with a pretty aggressive media buy and spend some money,” said Cramer. “The nice thing is that I’m in a position to respond to that if it happens, as well as being strong at the end.”

The race is considered one to watch in North Dakota political circles, although Sinner is still considered an underdog.

“You have this current built-in Republican advantage in the state,” said Mark Jendrysik, political science professor at the University of North Dakota. “At the same time you do have the fact that people are willing to vote for Democrats if they like them or if they know them personally. But without solid polling, it’s very hard to make any predictions.”

Cramer and Sinner will face each other in at least four debates.

Sinner says he intends to challenge Cramer on the “extremism of the Tea Party” and his part in do-nothing Congress. “I’m looking forward to having the congressman explain some of his actions in the House to me and the people of North Dakota,” Sinner said.

Cramer says he’s in tune with the strong conservatism of North Dakota voters, and doesn’t mind being questioned by challengers. The ballot also includes libertarian Jack Seaman.

“My philosophy is, I accept them all, which is unusual for incumbents,” he said. “… We are in the people’s House and the founders purposely designed it so we are only 700 days away from our next performance evaluation.”

He said the Sinner name is a factor in the race. Sinner’s father guided the state during a tumultuous time of drought, poor crop prices, weak tax revenues and farm foreclosures.

“I am remarkably proud of my father’s legacy as governor and, of course, the Sinner name,” Sinner said. “But name recognition can only help you so much. You need the substance to back it up.”

Sinner is unusually well known, said Cramer. “I think George Sinner is probably the best candidate they could have got to run against me. I take it seriously.”

Sinner cites internal polling that he said has the two candidates “neck and neck,” although Cramer said that based on his own polling, “I would rather be me.”

He added, “I can remember someone showing me a poll that I was neck in neck with Kent Conrad,” Cramer said, referring to his losing race against the former Democratic senator.

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