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GOP convention draws a crowd

The North Dakota Republican Party state convention should draw more than 1,600 delegates to Grand Forks' Alerus Center for today's candidate endorsements, party officials estimated Friday as the convention officially began.

North Dakota GOP
Phil Kerr of Media Productions puts the finishing touches on the backdrop for the North Dakota GOP convention at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Friday. Herald photo by Eric Hylden

The North Dakota Republican Party state convention should draw more than 1,600 delegates to Grand Forks' Alerus Center for today's candidate endorsements, party officials estimated Friday as the convention officially began.

That's not bad considering widespread spring flooding around the state and the fact the party was hoping to get about 800 delegates when planning started last year.

"It seems there have been a lot of last-minute things coming together," said Mike Little, party media spokesman. "It's just been crazy."

Beth Bouley, a Grand Forks delegate who is co-chairing the convention, said the big turnout has been surprising.

"What we originally planned for has mushroomed," she said.

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The high level of interest probably owes to the two "extremely competitive" races this year, she said, referring to the party endorsement contests for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate that will be decided today by delegates. Developments in recent months also probably helped, she said.

"There's been a change of the political landscape in North Dakota," Bouley said.

Friday, the start to the weekend convention, was mostly a chance for delegates from across the state to get registered and conduct some official party business. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., will give the keynote speech at 9:30 a.m. today, followed by party endorsements for the U.S. House, state attorney general and U.S. Senate.

Meeting Sorum

Fargo architect Paul Sorum, competing with Gov. John Hoeven for the party's Senate nomination, used the afternoon to hold an informal town hall meeting.

"I wanted to have some time for people to just stop in and talk to me, ask questions and just say hi,' " Sorum said. "I think it turned out to be a good idea."

He said delegates had asked him about a wide range of topics, but the country's deficit spending and debt were the biggest concerns.

He announced plans to run for the Senate last summer, and has visited districts across the state to meet delegates. But he said he wasn't nervous on the eve of an endorsement process that will make him or Hoeven the official Republican candidate for the Senate.

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"I'm actually really not that anxious because I feel like we've had a huge impact already in a very positive way," he said.

Sorum's 19-year-old daughter, Erin, has never voted before -- she turned 18 just weeks after the 2008 elections -- but she won't have to wait until November to get her chance.

"I believe I'll have to vote tomorrow as a delegate," she said.

The oldest of Sorum's four children, she said politics have "always been around" in her life. It's the first time she's been a convention delegate, an important job that she said she isn't taking lightly.

"To me, being a delegate is you feel so strongly about something that you really want to take action and have a little say," Erin Sorum said.

She admitted she's not a typical 19-year-old, saying she "can't help but voice my opinion" in political discussions at school, with friends or even at the dinner table.

"I think I'm much more aware about politics," she said. "I'm not going to say I'm a better person for that, I just say I'm different that way. It's hard not to when your dad's trying to run for the Senate."

'More vigor'

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Clair Watne, a delegate from Minot, said there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm right now that could translate to a "strong year" for Republicans. He's gone to many conventions over the years, he said, but he was impressed with the excitement among delegates Friday.

"I just think that there's more vigor in Republicans this year than I've seen in a long, long time," Watne said.

Nelson Rosit became a first-time delegate after getting numerous e-mails asking for more representatives from Grand Forks. "I live a mile away (from the Alerus Center) and said, 'Why not?'" he said.

Rosit said it was interesting to personally meet and discuss issues with four candidates Friday, but he hasn't quite decided how he'll vote today in the House nomination contest between Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer and state Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo.

"I'm still undecided even after personally talking to them," he said. "They're both really nice guys. I'm not sure there's a huge difference between the two."

Dale Mowry, a Fargo delegate, was manning a Hoeven booth in the hallway that provided campaign literature, bumper stickers and "Hoeven H2O" -- free bottles of water with a clever nickname. Not surprisingly, Mowry plans to vote for Hoeven in the Senate nomination race.

Mowry has attended many Republican conventions since 1996 and said this year's gathering has a lot more excitement than normal. He said the fact that it attracted more than 1,600 delegates, probably more than the 2000 convention, was impressive.

"For an off-year election, that's huge," Mowry said.

Michael Bommarito from Bismarck came to his first convention to support Cramer's House bid.

"I'm here for Cramer," he said. "I think we stand a good chance of getting Earl (Pomeroy) out of office."

But he's still undecided on the Senate race. Bommarito said he noticed "a lot of good vibes" around the Alerus as everyone geared up for the tough contests today, but it's not all work and campaigning.

Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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