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Column: NDGOP may face another bumpy primary season

Tom Campbell, 58, right, a farmer and Republican state senator from Grafton, announced he would run for the Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. with him in this file photo from July 2014 are Julie Campbell, left, Walsh County Job Development Authority, and Dawn Keeley, executive director of the Red River Regional Council. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service 1 / 2
columnist Rob Port2 / 2

One of the luxuries of being a thoroughly marginalized and not terribly relevant political entity like the North Dakota Democratic Party is that it tamps down the amount of intraparty squabbling.

When you don't have that many people in your party to begin with, when the struggle is to find candidates — any candidates — to fill spots on the ballot, it cuts down on the arguing.

North Dakota Republicans have no such luxuries. A byproduct of their electoral success over the years is a sprawling party full of eager candidates anxious to campaign and serve.

The party's conventions, not to mention their June primary balloting, have been vigorously competitive over the last several election cycles.

Many, including this humble observer, would define that as a feature of the NDGOP's success and not a bug.

Not everyone feels that way, though.

A persistent rumor in political circles in recent days is U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell's supporters, if not necessarily the candidate himself, is unhappy with NDGOP officials for continuing their efforts to recruit more candidates for that race.

The idea promoted by this Grand Forks-centric cadre is that Republicans have an announced candidate to take on incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, ergo the NDGOP should stop looking for more.

I'm told that at least one prominent Campbell supporter has even been talking of an effort to replace NDGOP party chair Kelly Armstrong who, like Campbell, is a sitting member of the state Senate.

It is absolutely true that the NDGOP has been active in recruiting additional candidates for the Senate race. Knowing that Sen. Heitkamp, though politically vulnerable, is no slouch when it comes to campaigning they're looking to cast a wide net for talented candidates interested in unseating the incumbent.

Among the people targeted for recruitment have been Kathy Neset, a successful oilfield consultant and a member of the State Board of Higher Education, as well as Border States Electric CEO Tammy Miller.

Campbell, or at least some of his more outspoken supporters, see these efforts as an affront. Evidence of a lack of confidence in the only announced Republican Senate candidate so far.

For what it's worth, the Campbell campaign is on the record denouncing the rumors. "Any dissatisfaction on that would be completely a rumor," Campbell campaign manager Lucas Paper told me. "We all want good competition. We want what's best for North Dakota."

I'll let you readers decide the truth, only adding that it wouldn't be the first incident of back biting during a political party's nomination process.

If this outsider's two cents are worth anything, competition among interesting and qualified candidates serves a political party well. It makes the candidates who emerge from the process stronger, I think.

The NDGOP, as well as its candidates, would do well to pay more than lip service to that concept.

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