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Published March 25, 2010, 08:00 AM

ND Democrats ready for weekend's state convention

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Democrats on Thursday coaxed their longtime state House leader to run for agriculture commissioner, but they still lacked candidates for tax commissioner and attorney general on the eve of their two-day convention.

By: DALE WETZEL, Associated Press

About 700 Democratic convention delegates were expected to gather at the Fargo Civic Auditorium this weekend to endorse candidates for seven state offices and pay tribute to Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who is leaving the Senate after 30 years in Congress.

Of the seven offices on the November ballot, the only Democratic incumbent is U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who is seeking his 10th term. Democratic delegates on Friday and Saturday hope to choose candidates for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, along with the state attorney general, agriculture commissioner, secretary of state, tax commissioner and public service commissioner.

Rep. Merle Boucher, the state House's Democratic leader, said Thursday he would seek the endorsement of state Democratic delegates to run for agriculture commissioner. The longtime lawmaker said he has been considering the race for about a year.

Should he get the endorsement, Boucher, a rancher and former schoolteacher and coach from Rolette, would run against incumbent Republican Doug Goehring, who was appointed to the job by Republican Gov. John Hoeven last year after Roger Johnson, a Democrat, resigned. Goehring ran twice for the job previously, losing to Johnson both times.

"This is, in my mind, an open seat. The dynamics are entirely different than someone who is a seated, elected official," Boucher said. "I can do the job. I bring good qualifications to the race. I have a good level of visibility ... I am a known quantity."

Boucher, 63, has served in the House for almost 20 years, and has been the Democratic House minority leader since the 1997 Legislature.

He twice sought the Democratic endorsement to run for governor, losing to former Bismarck state Sen. Joseph Satrom in 2004 and Fargo state Sen. Tim Mathern in 2008. After losing to Mathern, Boucher joined the Democratic ticket as his running mate; they lost to Hoeven and Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Democrats have candidates running unopposed for five of the seven offices on the state's convention agenda. Along with Pomeroy and Boucher, Sen. Tracy Potter of Bismarck is running for the U.S. Senate, Rep. Corey Mock of Grand Forks is seeking the endorsement for secretary of state, and Brad Crabtree, a Kulm farmer and rancher, is running for public service commissioner.

As of late Thursday, no Democrat had announced a candidacy for attorney general or tax commissioner. Both Dorgan and his North Dakota U.S. Senate colleague, Kent Conrad, are former tax commissioners.

Mark Schneider, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said Democrats will field candidates for both offices.

Schneider said Pomeroy's vote in favor of the federal health care overhaul has energized Democratic activists. He believes that support for the plan will grow once North Dakota residents become more familiar with it, and Pomeroy will benefit from what Schneider described as "a vote of political courage seldom seen."

"Now, we've got a law. We don't have to talk about different bills and different amendments," Schneider said. "The provisions are there for all to see. ... I think this is going to swing in Earl's favor."

Tea party activists opposed to the health care measure planned a rally outside the convention Saturday. Schneider said he expected no problems as long as there was no violence, harassment or attempts to disrupt the convention. He said the party hired two private security guards and two off-duty Fargo police officers, who will be in uniform, to watch the demonstration.

"Anybody wants to exercise their First Amendment rights, our Democratic Party would be the first ones to say, go right ahead," Schneider said. "That right stops with trying to interfere with our convention, and I don't think they will."

Rob Port, a conservative Minot blogger promoting the rally, said he believed Democrats were "overreacting a little bit" but said the presence of security would not bother him. There have been no problems at more than a dozen previous tea party demonstrations across the state, Port said.

"I'm glad that (Schneider is) OK with us protesting. We recognize that they have a right to assemble, just like we do," Port said. "It's certainly not our intent to disrupt their event at all."

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