BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota Republicans on Tuesday nominated U.S. Rep. Rick Berg for the Senate and picked Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer as his possible successor in the House, even though delegates at a state convention had endorsed Cramer's opponent.
Berg, a freshman congressman, defeated GOP opponent Duane Sand in Tuesday's primary, setting up a fall matchup against former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp. She had no Democratic primary opposition for her own Senate bid.
Cramer, a former state Republican chairman who was running his third U.S. House campaign, defeated fellow public service commissioner Brian Kalk, who was the favored pick of North Dakota Republican convention delegates.
Cramer now will oppose Democrat Pam Gulleson, who faced no primary challenger Tuesday.
Cramer said he believed the contest would not split North Dakota Republicans. Neither he nor Kalk ran a hostile campaign, Cramer said.
"People had a real tough decision to make," Cramer said. "I know how hard (Kalk) works. I know his tenacity. I know how likable he is, because I like him a lot."
He believes he won, Cramer said, because his longer record in public office allowed North Dakotans to become more familiar with him. He has served as a state tourism and economic development director, and has been on the PSC for eight years. Kalk was first elected in 2008.
"I think people know me and they trust me," Cramer said. "People know what they are going to get."
Berg said he was "just really fired up" by his victory.
"If we're going to stop (President Barack) Obama's policies that are hurting families and small businesses, we have to get control of the Senate. Now, we'll just crank it up a few more notches, and explain what our vision is," Berg said.
Sand said he had "no regrets" about his primary challenge.
"I thought if I got my message out, I could win. I never was able to get our message out," Sand said. "I knew it was going to be an uphill battle."
Sand, a Navy veteran who served on a nuclear submarine, said his next effort would be an initiative to push construction of a nuclear power plant in North Dakota. Most of the state's electricity is supplied by coal-fueled plants in the western part of North Dakota.
Berg won over voters such as Josh Kimele, 40, of Bismarck, who said Berg "seems like a safer vote." He said he'd supported Berg's first bid for Congress in 2012, when Berg defeated longtime incumbent Democrat Earl Pomeroy.
"I think he's on the right side of most of the issues," Kimele said. "I get the sense that he's not going to be in favor of cutting deals to raise taxes, or to overregulate or overburden the economy."
The state Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, grain elevators and coal mine land reclamation. Cramer and Kalk even have offices next door to each other on the state Capitol's 12th floor.
Berg's departure, less than two years after he was elected to Congress, translated to an open House seat, ultimately leading six Republicans to vie for the GOP House nomination. The Democrats' House candidate, Pam Gulleson, had no primary opposition.
Kalk prevailed over four rivals, including two North Dakota state lawmakers and a former director of the state Commerce Department, for the endorsement of Republican activists at the state party's convention in April. The convention traditionally picks Republican candidates for statewide office, and primary challenges are rare. Cramer, however, declared in January that he would bypass the convention and run in the GOP primary in any case.
"My rationale for this is to open up the party process and invite all Republicans from around the state into this decision," Cramer said then.
The move prompted grumbling among some GOP activists, who pointed out that Cramer had discouraged such challenges when he served as the North Dakota Republican chairman and director.
Detractors said Cramer had calculated he was likely to lose a convention endorsement, and that he declared his intention to run in the primary early to avoid being labeled as a sore loser if delegates spurned him.