- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - As leaders in North Dakota’s major political parties prepare for their conventions next week, even Democrats are focused on the Republicans’ marquee race, a three-way contest for the party’s endorsement to replace Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who is not seeking re-election.

Republicans expect their three-day state convention, which starts Friday at the Scheels Arena in Fargo, to be one of the GOP’s best-attended gatherings, while Democrats in this deeply conservative state are struggling to find a field of candidates on the eve of their three-day convention, which starts Thursday at the Bismarck Civic Center. More than 1,800 delegates are expected to attend the GOP event, or more than triple what Democrats are expecting.

A rundown on what’s in play and at stake at the Republican and Democratic conventions:

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GUBERNATORIAL FOES

The most competitive race occurs Saturday, when GOP delegates choose from three candidates for governor: Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Bismarck state Rep. Rick Becker and Fargo businessman Doug Burgum. None of the men have chosen a running mate.

Burgum has promised to take the unorthodox step and still run in the June primary if he’s not endorsed at the convention. Burgum has said he expects Stenehjem to get that endorsement, while Becker said he believes the race is still a three-way tossup.

North Dakota has not had a Democratic governor since 1992. State Rep. Marvin Nelson, who formally announced this month he’s seeking the nomination, came forward after the party’s top hopes, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and former state Agriculture Commissioner Sarah Vogel, weighed runs for governor but ultimately rejected the idea.

Nelson has chosen New Rockford Sen. Joan Heckaman as his running mate.

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LACKING DEMOCRATS

Democrats have no announced opponents for U.S. House and U.S. Senate, along with state public service commissioner, auditor, treasurer and insurance commissioner.

Robert Haider, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic Party, said candidates could emerge at the convention or in the few remaining days prior.

He downplayed the lack of candidates to oppose Republicans and said party’s priority has been to focus on state legislative races. North Dakota Republicans wield supermajority control in the Legislature and hold every statewide office except for Heitkamp’s Senate seat.

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UNOPPOSED GOP

Three incumbent Republicans - U.S. Senator John Hoeven, state Treasurer Kelly Schmidt and Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak - are unopposed for convention endorsements for re-election. A convention endorsement entitles the favored candidate to a spot on the June ballot, although anyone else may qualify for a primary race by getting 300 petition signatures.

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SUPERINTENDENT SUPPORT

State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler is seeking a Republican letter of support to run for her second four-year term. The position is a nonpartisan job, and candidates are listed in one ballot column with no party identification. However, both Republicans and Democrats usually provide letters of support for their favored candidates at their state conventions. A preferred candidate for the Democrats remains a mystery.

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GOP AUDITOR MATCHUP

Republicans also have a contest for state auditor, with Josh Gallion and Brian Kroshus vying for delegates’ favor.

Gallion is an accounting manager for the North Dakota Public Service Commission. Kroshus stepped down as publisher of the Bismarck Tribune to campaign for the seat held by Robert Peterson, who is not seeking a sixth term, marking an end of a more than four-decade father-son dynasty in the office. Peterson’s father, Robert W. Peterson, held the job for 24 years before his son was elected in 1996 as his successor.

The current auditor is backing Gallion.

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CRAMER FOE

There also will be a GOP contest for North Dakota’s lone congressional seal, though U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, who will be seeking his third term, is viewed as a shoo-in against DuWayne Hendrickson of Minot. Hendrickson announced in January that he would seek the Republican endorsement for the seat.

It would be Hendrickson’s fourth bid for the Republican endorsement to run for the U.S. House. In 2010, he finished last at the North Dakota Republican state convention. He got five delegate votes out of 1,451 votes cast.

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HIGH OFFICE

Jon Godfread, a lawyer and a state chamber of commerce vice president, is seeing the GOP nod for the seat being vacated by Adam Hamm, who is not seeking re-election.

At 6 feet, 11 inches tall, Godfread once played professional basketball in Germany and will be hard to miss at the convention. It’s his first bid for elected office though he was a finalist for state tax commissioner in 2013, when Cory Fong stepped down. Gov. Jack Dalrymple ultimately appointed Ryan Rauschenberger, the son of Ron Rauschenberger, the governor’s chief of staff.

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NATIONAL DELEGATES

North Dakota Republicans are sending 28 delegates to the national convention in Cleveland in July. Twenty-five of those delegates will be picked at the state convention. Democrats will hold district caucuses in June to elect delegates to send to the party’s national convention in July in Philadelphia.

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