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Trade war would kill North Dakota's soybean industry, Kelly Armstrong says

North Dakota Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, speaks about his stances during a visit to Grand Forks as he campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald1 / 3
North Dakota Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, speaks with the Grand Forks Herald editorial board on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Armstrong is the state GOP-endorsed candidate vying for North Dakota's lone seat in the U.S. House. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 3
Kelly Armstrong, a North Dakota Republican candidate for Congress, spoke with the Grand Forks Herald editorial board on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 3

U.S. House candidate Kelly Armstrong will be one of the first to say a drawn-out trade war with China will kill North Dakota's soybean industry.

He wants to be the one who makes sure the White House understands that as it negotiates better trade terms for U.S. farmers, the Republican said during a Wednesday visit with the Herald editorial board.

"You have to go say, 'Listen, this is too important for North Dakota to be doing this,'" the state GOP's endorsed candidate said of retaliation from China that could harm North Dakota's agriculture industry, including a potential trade war. "This cannot happen."

China said it would retaliate with tariffs on U.S. products, including soybeans. A large portion of North Dakota's soybeans is sold to China.

Armstrong, who has represented Dickinson in the state Senate since 2013, is campaigning for North Dakota's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats have endorsed former state Sen. Mac Schneider of Grand Forks.

Ideology and voting records separate the two candidates, Armstrong said.

"We're running on what we do and what our messages are, but I think it is important to recognize that, as you talk on a campaign, you push yourself more to the middle and you have a voting record that will say you are not nearly as moderate as you talk," he said.

Armstrong said he doesn't try to push himself to the middle of the political spectrum, adding he is proud to be a conservative who supports local control. Agreeing that he is a "Trump Republican," Armstrong said the U.S. has never had a White House administration more interested in the state.

Trump's tax reforms, pro-business approach and push to give states more regulatory power has helped the state, Armstrong said, and securing the southern border is a top priority.

"I think between unmanned (aircraft) technology in Grand Forks and Fisher Industries in Dickinson, which is a finalist to build the wall, I think we could secure the border (with) North Dakota," he said.

There are ways Trump acts that give the North Dakotan pause, Armstrong said. For example, he wishes the president would tweet less.

But the national media outlets give more attention to Trump's behavior and don't cover issues that are important to North Dakota, Armstrong said. Instead of doing stories on agriculture issues, national media have focused on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and alleged connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

"When I go on the campaign trail, do you know how many people ask me about Russia and the Mueller investigation?" he asked. "Almost none. They want to talk about other things, but when I turn on the TV, all we are talking about is Russia and the Mueller investigation.

"People are tired of it," he added.

Schneider told the Herald on Wednesday his record shows support for family farms, the middle class and property tax relief.

"My voting record is in line with North Dakota values," Schneider said.

Schneider said Armstrong voted to support legislation that loosened the state's ban on corporate farming for the dairy and hog industries, a bill that was widely rejected by North Dakotans in a statewide vote.

Armstrong said his vote was about helping producers in the two dwindling industries.

Schneider has also opposed President Donald Trump's tactics in pushing for tougher tariffs on Chinese products, an attempt to force China to abide by trade agreements.

Both Armstrong and Schneider agreed U.S. farmers deserve a level playing field in trading with China, but Schneider said the administration needs to work with China in negotiations, not take measure that hurt farmers.

Armstrong faces a contested race in the June 12 primary election. Tiffany Abentroth of Cummings, N.D., and Paul Schaffner of Minot also are running in the Republican primary for the U.S. House seat.

State Sen. Tom Campbell of Grafton, N.D., will appear on the Republican primary ballot, but he suspended his campaign last month.

Schneider is uncontested in the Democratic primary. The winners from each party will move on to the November general election.

The House seat is held by U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp as she seeks re-election.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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