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U.S. House candidates look for attention amid high-profile Senate race

U.S. Senate candidates in North Dakota already are spending big bucks to win their race, but U.S. House hopefuls also are trying to get their names on the minds of voters.

In this photo combination, Democrat Mac Schneider, left, and Republican Kelly Armstrong met in their second debate of North Dakota's 2018 U.S. House race on Thursday night in Bismarck, hosted by the Greater North Dakota Chamber and moderated by KFYR. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune
Democrat Mac Schneider, left, and Republican Kelly Armstrong met in their second debate of North Dakota's 2018 U.S. House race last month in Bismarck. The two sparred again Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, on Prairie Public Broadcasting. (Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune)

U.S. Senate candidates in North Dakota already are spending big bucks to win their race, but U.S. House hopefuls also are trying to get their names on the minds of voters.

State Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, and former State Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, have spent tens of thousands of dollars in the race to capture a seat held by U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. Cramer is vacating his post and hoping to defeat incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in what could become one of the most expensive races in state history.

Armstrong has outpaced Schneider in contributions and expenditures for the race, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings for the 2018 election season. Armstrong has collected $740,270 in contributions, has spent $632,933 and had $407,377 cash on hand as of June 30, according to the FEC. He also took out a loan for $300,000.

Schneider brought in $346,356 in contributions, has spent $64,720 and had $281,636 cash on hand, the FEC filings said.

Both have spent a fraction of their counterparts in the Senate race. Heitkamp has raised more than $10.3 million, has spent almost $5.9 million and had more than $5.2 million cash on hand as of June 30. Donors have given Cramer about $3.2 million. He has spent $1.2 million and he had about $2.4 million cash on hand.

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Neither Armstrong nor Schneider have reached the amount Cramer raised or spent in his 2016 campaign for the House, when he reported $1.4 million in contributions and more than $1 million in spending. His Democratic opponent, Chase Iron Eyes, raised $228,000 and spent almost all of it, while Libertarian candidate Jack Seaman raised and spent roughly $2,500, according to the FEC.

Both Armstrong and Schneider said they feel they've been successful in getting their name and message out to voters, despite the heavy concentration of ads in the U.S. Senate race. Both said the key to making sure residents know their name is traveling around the state and speaking to voters.

"You get in front of as many people as you can and you work your tail off," Armstrong said.

"The most effective way is face to face," Schneider said. "That's what North Dakotans expect."

Setting the bar

Schneider acknowledged Armstrong has spent more funds than he has but attributed it to early spending. Armstrong had multiple opponents in the primary election, while Schneider ran uncontested. Schneider said he is saving his spending for late in the race.

"Money doesn't vote," Schneider said. "North Dakotans can vote."

It's been a long time since both candidates in the U.S. House race haven't held a statewide office before running on the federal level, so they need to spend money to get their names out, build their identities and get their messages to the public, Armstrong said.

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"Those things cost money," he said. "It's been really humbling about the people who have been willing to support me financially."

Though a lot of air time has been dedicated to Heitkamp and Cramer, it's doubtful media outlets would run out of space for political ads from Armstrong and Schneider, UND political science professor Robert Wood said. Markets are required by law to offer equal ad space to all candidates. They also must offer the lowest market price available to candidates, and other nonpolitical ads would be pushed aside for political ones, Wood said.

"There's no way on Earth the Senate candidates are going to buy every radio ad and every television ad that is available," he said.

The bigger challenge may come in raising money since donors can only give so much money, Wood said. Individuals have donated nearly $531,000 to Armstrong, with $422,515, or almost 80 percent, coming from North Dakota as of June 30. Schneider has reported more than $206,000 individual contributions, with $146,799, or 71 percent, coming from North Dakota, according to the June 30 FEC filings.

Social media offers candidates an "unlimited number of communication channels," he said, so candidates may choose to spend more time advertising in places like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter if it is less expensive.

Both opponents likely are aware of where they have more name recognition-more people likely know Schneider in the east side of state, while western North Dakotans recognize Armstrong's name, Wood said. They will have to work to earn votes, he added.

"The bar is whatever your opponent is doing," he said.

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