Last night Will Gardner won the Republican Secretary of State nomination with over 54,000 votes.
This despite Gardner withdrawing earlier this year amid scandal related to a 2006 disorderly conduct conviction for peeping on college girls in their dorms at North Dakota State University with his pants undone.
Absent some action from Gardner his name will be on the general election ballot. But the expectation, dating back to an interview I did with NDGOP Chairman Rick Berg shortly after Gardner announced his withdrawal, his that he’ll decline the primary nomination. Thus his name would not appear on the general election ballot.
But Gardner has to officially withdraw for that to happen. If he doesn’t – and there is a contingent of “anti-establishment” Republicans urging him to stay in the race – it sets up a potentially complicated political situation.
Incumbent Secretary of State Al Jaeger, who was defeated by Gardner for the party’s endorsement this spring prior to the scandal, has said that he’ll file the signatures to put himself on the general election ballot as an independent. The expectation is that the NDGOP would then issue an endorsement of Jaeger.
Nothing Gardner does can prevent that from happening, but if he doesn’t decline the primary nomination he can play spoiler putting his name on the ballot as the nominated Republican candidate.
It would then be a four-way race between Gardner, Jaeger, Democratic canddiate Josh Boschee, and Libertarian candidate Roland Riemers. Jaeger and Gardner would likely split the Republican vote, handing a win to Boschee.
As of this morning Gardner has not yet notified the Secretary of State’s office declining the nomination. “We have not received anything as of now,” Elections Specialist Lee Ann Oliver told me in an 11:24am email. “We have never done that before when someone declined the nomination so I don’t think we will this time. He just wouldn’t be listed on the certified list of candidates for the General Election,” she told me when I asked if her office would issue a statement when or if Gardner does decline the nomination. “I would think he wouldn’t turn in a letter until after the results are final at the state canvassing board which is going to be on June 22nd.”
I’ve called Gardner multiple times this morning but have received no response.
“We have not heard anything new from Will,” Dawson Schefter with the NDGOP told me. We are excited that we exceeded our Republican turnout goal and with nearly 69,000 Republicans turning out to vote yesterday! Great momentum heading into the general.
I think there are going to be a lot of nervous Republicans until Gardner does, in fact, decline the nomination.
UPDATE: Republican sources are telling me that Will has spoken with NDGOP officials and that “nothing has changed” from his previous pledge to decline the nomination. Gardner still hasn’t declined the nomination officially, though.