Casting an endorsing vote for Heidi Heitkamp for U.S. Senate will be one of the highlights of this weekend's North Dakota Democratic-NPL convention for Sue Olafson of Glenburn, a long-time supporter of the former state attorney general.
"Her best trait, I think, is her ability to understand the regular person," she said. "She's very approachable. I think the things she has done have been very helpful and very good for the people of the state."
John Mercer and Jeff Hoverson, first-time delegates from Minot to the state Republican convention the next weekend, are still making up their minds about the candidates. But they know what they are looking for.
State Sen. Ryan Taylor, with sons Marshall and Olav, prepares to speak to a hometown crowd in Towner on a campaign swing Feb. 15. Taylor will be seeking the Democratic endorsement for North Dakota governor Friday.
Amy Dreffs, left, and Sheryll Paulson display their support for presidential candidate Rick Santorum as they listen to speakers at the Minot Republican district caucuses March 6 in Jim Hill Middle School. Republicans will be gathering in Bismarck March 30 for their statewide convention.
"I would like to hear a plan, outside of 'I am going to vote no,'" Mercer said. "We have the smartest people in the United States right here in this state and they have to start taking our common sense to Washington and applying it."
Republicans also need to show that they care about the American people because that's not always the way they are portrayed, Mercer said.
"The people we send to Washington need to go there with conscience and compassion," he said.
Hoverson said he wants to hear candidates talk about reducing the national debt, Christian roots and the Constitution.
"I am really concerned about how fast and how far we are in debt as a nation, and I am concerned about the moral fiber of our nation," he said.
Bob Wolf, a Minot delegate to the Democratic event in Grand Forks, said he sees momentum and consensus for change in America that he believes will be good for Democrats in November. He is excited to hear what former president Bill Clinton will have to say about it when he delivers the keynote address Saturday at 1 p.m.
Members of the general public wishing to attend can download free tickets on the state Democratic-NPL website at (demnpl.com/stateconvention). Tickets also can be obtained the day of the event. Between 8,000 and 10,000 people are expected, including about 2,000 delegates, said Alison Kelly, communications director for the state party. The convention begins today and runs through Saturday in the Alerus Center.
"I am expecting it to be a pretty lively crowd," said Democratic delegate Bruce Anderson of Glenburn. "I think Democrats are getting rather excited about the prospects. There are some really interesting statewide candidates emerging. It always fires people up."
This year also will be the first time since 1958 that Democrats won't have an incumbent running in a congressional race, said Anderson, who has been at 18 of the past 20 Democratic state conventions since 1972. The late Sen. Quentin Burdick won a House seat in 1958, moving to the Senate, where he served until 1992.
This year's entire election cycle is unusual in that no candidate is seeking re-election in Congress or as governor, Anderson added.
On the Republican side, Congressman Rick Berg is seeking endorsement to move to the U.S. Senate, while Gov. Jack Dalrymple looks to retain the seat that he acquired as lieutenant governor after voters elected his predecessor, John Hoeven, to the Senate.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is not seeking re-election. Democrats will host a tribute to the senator, first elected in 1986, Saturday morning.
Democrats begin their endorsing process Friday afternoon with insurance commissioner, treasurer and governor.
State Sen. Ryan Taylor of Towner has announced for governor and will propose Ellen Chaffee, former university president in Valley City and Mayville, to the convention as his running mate. Taylor is a rancher, author and public speaker. He was Senate minority leader during the last legislative session.
Ross Mushik of Mandan is seeking the Democratic endorsement for treasurer. Mushik has 22 years of experience in accounting, auditing, budgeting and management in state offices including the Tax Commission, the Office of Intergovernmental Assistance and Department of Emergency Services. He has worked as a financial planner and currently is a small business owner.
Endorsements Saturday include the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Public Service Commission, auditor and lieutenant governor.
Heitkamp, an attorney who was state tax commissioner before serving as attorney general from 1993 to 2001, enters the convention unchallenged for the U.S. Senate. State Rep. Pam Gulleson of Rutland seeks the U.S. House endorsement. Gulleson worked for nine years as former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan's state director and is engaged in the family farm operation. She has served 16 years in the state House.
Brad Crabtree, policy director for the Great Plains Institute and an Ashley rancher, is seeking a seat on the Public Service Commission. He ran for the commission two years ago, losing to Cramer.
Tom Potter, who withdrew from the Senate race, announced Tuesday that he will run for insurance commissioner. Potter, of Grand Forks, is a former finance professor at the University of North Dakota and is a commissioned lay pastor at a Minnesota Presbyterian church.
A candidate is expected to announce today for the auditor's position.
At the Republican convention, Noem will speak during the afternoon of March 31. Noem was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives in 2006, serving as assistant majority leader until her election to the U.S. House in 2010.
"We are expecting really a record convention in terms of the real enthusiasm we have for these candidates and the sheer number of candidates," said Matt Becker, communications director for the state Republican Party. "To have that many really qualified individuals seeking endorsements for these races it really speaks to the enthusiasm of Republicans."
The U.S. House race is the most crowded with five candidates: Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk; Shane Goettle, former state Commerce Department commissioner and director for Sen. Hoeven's state office; DuWayne Hendrickson, a self-employed businessman in Minot; Rep. Kim Koppelman, a West Fargo businessman and communications consultant; and Rep. Betty Grande of Fargo. Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer has announced that he intends to bypass the convention and run in the Republican primary in June.
Convention organizers anticipate a number of balloting rounds until a candidate receives the required majority of about 2,000 delegates to be in attendance. After a third and additional rounds of balloting, the lowest vote-getter drops from contention.
Kevin Connole, a Minot delegate, looks forward to the speeches and campaigning for the U.S. House race. He said he is "quite impressed" by both Kalk and Goettle, although his initial leaning has been toward Kalk.
"He has the state of North Dakota definitely on the forefront of his mind," said Connole, who plans to wait to hear more at the convention before committing himself to a candidate.
The Republican races include Berg and Duane Sand for the U.S. Senate. Sand ran unsuccessfully for the Senate against Conrad in 2000 and also has sought the U.S. House seat in the past.
For governor, Paul Sorum is challenging Dalrymple. Sorum, a Fargo businessman, was the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
Republicans Blair Thoreson, a Fargo business owner, and Sen. Randy Christmann, a Hazen rancher, are competing for the endorsement to run for Republican Tony Clark's seat on the Public Service Commission. Clark is not seeking re-election.
Incumbents running unchallenged are Treasurer Kelly Schmidt, Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm and Auditor Robert Peterson.
The parties also may offer a letter of support to a candidate for superintendent of public instruction.
Max Laird, former president of the North Dakota Education Association, is seeking the Democrats' support. Laird had received the convention's support four years ago but lost the election to incumbent Wayne Sanstead, also a Democrat. Sanstead, first elected in 1984, is not seeking re-election.
At the Republican convention, Kirsten Baesler and Rep. David Monson have indicated they will be looking for that letter of support.
Baesler is a Mandan school board member and member of North Dakota School Board Association's board of directors. She is a school library media specialist in the Bismarck school system.
Monson, of Osnabrock, has served on the House Appropriation Committee's Education and Environment Section. He is a farmer and retired school administrator, having worked 40 years in education. He also served on the Osnabrock School Board.