BISMARCK-Kelly Armstrong made his run for the U.S. House official Thursday, Feb. 22, marking the second North Dakota Republican state lawmaker to seek Rep. Kevin Cramer's seat.
Armstrong, a state senator, attorney and businessman from Dickinson, N.D., publicized his entrance into the race during a few appearances across the state Thursday after resigning as state party chairman this week. His announcement came just days after Cramer said he would run for the U.S. Senate in an effort to unseat Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp.
The Senate race has drawn much of the spotlight in recent months, but Armstrong said the House is a better fit for him.
"It's scrappier," he said, drawing chuckles and applause from a room full of Republican legislators, statewide elected officials, lobbyists and others at Bismarck State College.
Armstrong's bid prompts competition within the Republican Party. Tom Campbell, a potato farmer from Grafton, N.D., and fellow state senator, had been campaigning for Heitkamp's seat but switched to the House race after Cramer moved to the Senate contest.
Campbell didn't return a message Thursday. His campaign deferred to a statement issued Wednesday, Feb. 21, in which spokesman Mike Schrimpf said Campbell "is best positioned to represent North Dakota in the U.S. House."
Armstrong avoided taking shots at Campbell during the Bismarck rally.
"Tom's been working really hard, but I'm going to stand on my record," he said.
The last time there was an open House race, Cramer skipped the convention process and defeated the GOP-endorsed candidate Brian Kalk in the 2012 primary election. Both were members of the Public Service Commission at the time.
But Armstrong said he's "all-in on this convention," which will be held in early April in Grand Forks.
"I can't resign as party chair on Tuesday and tell the party I don't care about the rules on Thursday," he said. "It's convention or bust."
Armstrong said Campbell has "sure made it sound" like he will run in the primary, regardless of the convention results. Campbell's campaign said their plan is to win the convention and the primary.
Several other North Dakota Republicans have also launched bids for the House, including Tiffany Abentroth, a Cummings, N.D., resident who is in the Marine Corps Reserves. Former Congressman Rick Berg didn't rule out a House run last week, while Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said it's unlikely she'd campaign for the seat.
Democratic House candidate Ben Hanson, a former state lawmaker, said in an emailed statement that Armstrong's announcement "doesn't change anything for us."
Armstrong was first elected to the state Senate in 2012. During the most recent legislative session, he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Armstrong touted his role in passing oil boom surge funding, DUI reform and legislation to help law enforcement during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. He signaled support for President Donald Trump, derided overregulation and said Congress needs to "get serious" about balancing the federal budget.
A graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Law, Armstrong, 41, is a partner in the Reichert Armstrong Law Office, although he said he hasn't practiced law since 2012. He's vice president of his father's oil business, he said.
North Dakota GOP Vice Chairman Jim Poolman said he has taken over Armstrong's chairmanship duties until a special election determines a replacement. His wife, Republican state Sen. Nicole Poolman, introduced Armstrong at the Bismarck rally as a friend and seatmate in the Senate chambers.
"I think Kelly's going to have broad support statewide," she said.