BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong won reelection to a third term on Tuesday, defeating former Miss America Cara Mund in a race that was shaken up by Mund’s late entry as an independent.
Armstrong ran unopposed in the Republican primary in June and was poised for an easy win in the highly conservative state against a little-known Democrat, Mark Haugen, who opposes abortion rights. Then, Mund entered the race in August as an independent, citing her support for abortion rights following the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Haugen soon dropped out, citing pressure from his own party. That cleared the field for Mund, who drew media attention but ran her race on a shoestring budget without any significant funding from abortion rights groups.
Armstrong, 46, is an establishment Republican with ties to the state's dominant industry, oil. A lawyer and former state senator, he has been a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump and easily won his first two terms.
“I’m proud of the campaign we ran. It’s been a great ride and I take every campaign seriously. I’m glad it’s over and we've got a lot of work to do,” Armstrong said. “Now, it’s time to go back to Washington and dive in.”
Mund, 28, drew attention at the Miss America pageant in 2017 by saying Trump was wrong to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords, which seek to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. She stood by those remarks even as Republicans played them up during this year's campaign.
She also rejected Republicans' efforts to paint her as a Democrat in all but name, portraying herself as an outsider beholden to neither party. She also said she would likely caucus with Republicans if elected.
Armstrong questioned whether she would be welcome, and said he would be better positioned in a House GOP majority to fight for North Dakota interests in agriculture and energy.
Mund said she knew she faced an uphill battle in conservative North Dakota.
“It’s really hard to win in a state that has a supermajority and where the narrative continuously is pushed by that majority,” Mund said. “But not getting the seat doesn’t mean it was a loss — there were a lot of wins in other ways. I’m proud of what I did, and especially the number of women that have said now they want to run for school board or city commissioner or just throw their hat in the ring now.”
Mund said she didn’t know if she would seek office again.
“I’m not sure what the future is for me, but you know for every vote I got, it was from someone who felt heard and felt validated, and that’s all I can ask.”
Marilyn Johnson, 78, a retired teacher who said she generally votes Republican, said she was voting for Mund as she cast an early vote in Bismarck. Though Johnson said she herself opposes abortion, she respects Mund's support for abortion rights and believes it should be a woman's choice.
Tim Keller, a 55-year-old contractor and a Republican, said he didn't buy Mund's claim of independence. He was backing Armstrong, who he said is “doing a good job.”
Armstrong held a huge financial advantage, raising nearly $2 million overall compared to the roughly $78,000 Mund had raised through the end of September.
North Dakota's only abortion clinic, which was in Fargo, moved to neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota, this summer even as it sought to block the state's trigger ban in court.
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