MINOT, N.D. – North Dakota Republicans sent a clear message to U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer on Saturday: No hard feelings.

With a resounding “aye,” delegates to the GOP State Convention on Saturday unanimously endorsed Cramer for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives, two years after he irked some party members by skipping the convention process.

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Cramer faces a challenge from Democratic state Sen. George B. Sinner of Fargo, a bank executive and the son of former North Dakota Gov. George “Bud” Sinner.

“I can tell you we’re going to outwork them for sure with your help,” Cramer said.

Keynote speaker Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, told more than 800 delegates and convention-goers at the State Fair Center that North Dakota is “blessed” to have its current leadership. He said state party Chairman Bob Harms and others within the party are “paving the way for the rest of our country to go from blue to red,” to have a great midterm election and take back the presidency in 2016.

“This is the new American frontier,” he said.

Delegates also endorsed candidates for attorney general, tax commissioner and Public Service Commission.

‘It’s good to be us’

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven introduced Cramer, noting the former utility regulator has served during one of the most dynamic times for the energy industry and worked hard to get a federal farm bill passed.

“Kevin Cramer understands what we need to do, and he is working hard every day to get things done,” Hoeven said.

Cramer served nine years on the Public Service Commission before being elected to the U.S. House in 2012, winning the seat left open by one-term Rep. Rick Berg’s unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate. He also was chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party in the early 1990s and served as state tourism director from 1993 to 1997 and as state economic development and finance director from 1997 to 2000 under former Gov. Ed Schafer.

At the Democratic-NPL state convention last weekend in Fargo, Sinner and his fellow Democrats painted Cramer as a career politician and tea party extremist. Cramer fired back Saturday, sarcastically recalling the “brilliant idea” of Sinner’s father to raise taxes in the 1980s and saying, “All that pessimism pouring out of the Fargo Civic Center last weekend cannot change the fact that it is good to be us.”

Repeating a familiar theme Saturday, Cramer blasted the Affordable Care Act and called for less government intrusion and fewer regulations. He also credited Republican policies with setting the stage for the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that led to the state’s current oil and gas boom.

Republicans touted the state’s progress under their leadership, with Gov. Jack Dalrymple citing the state’s status as having the nation’s lowest unemployment rate and fastest-growing population.

“We have the opportunity to create a great future for North Dakota, but it is up to us to do it. We live in perhaps the most privileged state in the most privileged nation in the history of mankind. But that alone does not assure us of the quality of life we seek,” he said.

Republicans hold a supermajority in the Legislature and all of the elected statewide offices in state government, and Dalrymple scoffed at Democrats’ call for greater political balance.

“When you have a strong team on the field that is doing a great job for you, what do you do? You keep your starters on the field as long as the team is doing well,” he said.

But Harms also warned against Republicans’ success breeding complacency, noting that Democrats have fielded candidates for every statewide office and view U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s election in 2012 as a revival of the party.

“If we act like we’re in first place, we’ll soon be in second,” he said.

Other endorsements

In Saturday’s other endorsements, Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger highlighted his work with the governor and Legislature to provide $2.4 billion in income and property tax relief and said he hopes to provide more.

“I’m very proud of our work and I will continue to build on it,” said Rauschenberger, who created one of the day’s livelier moments when he made his way to the convention stage with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blaring on the sound system and an entourage of sign-toting supporters tailing behind him.

Rauschenberger hopes to win his first term in November after being appointed to the office last year by Dalrymple. Democrats endorsed Fargo attorney Jason Astrup for the position.

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak pledged to work relentlessly to maintain affordable, reliable power, and noted the PSC is working on developing a state-run oversight program to complement federal pipeline inspectors.

“This is an appropriate place for the state to assert ourselves” to protect the integrity of North Dakota’s landscape, she said.

Like Rauschenberger, Fedorchak also will be running for her current seat for the first time. Dalrymple appointed her to the PSC seat left open by Cramer. First-term state Sen. Tyler Axness of Fargo received Democrats’ blessing to challenge Fedorchak for the two-year term.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who received the GOP nod to seek a fifth term in office, acknowledged concerns about increased drug use, human trafficking and prostitution associated with growth in the state’s Oil Patch, but he said the Legislature has responded, adding more resources for his office and officers in the field.

“We have challenges to be sure, but we need to put all these things into historical perspective because things really are going amazingly well for us in North Dakota,” he said.

Democrats last weekend endorsed Grand Forks attorney Kiara Kraus-Parr to challenge Stenehjem.

Race for ag commissioner

By the end of the convention’s first day, 865 delegates had checked in at the State Fair Center, and party chairman Harms said he was “thrilled” that more than 1,000 delegates were credentialed. Party officials were originally expecting about 750 delegates, but saw an uptick in signups in recent weeks, in part because of intense interest in the contest between Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and challenger Judy Estenson for the GOP endorsement for the November election.

“The ag commissioner’s race certainly contributed to the size of the delegation,” Harms said, but added that general excitement about the party also was a factor.

The convention continues at 9 a.m. Sunday, with the ag commissioner’s race last on the agenda.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.