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Oil group relishes ‘rare opportunity’ of Trump visit to ND

BISMARCK - When Donald Trump visits North Dakota later this month, the leader of the state's oil industry group hopes to hear something different than what has been said on the rugged campaign trail.

2016-05-04T014614Z_1606165440_HT1EC5404WQ3D_RTRMADP_3_USA-ELECTION-TRUMP.JPG
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks as (L-R) his daughter Ivanka, son Eric, Eric's wife Lara Yunaska and his wife Melania look on, during a campaign victory party after rival candidate Senator Ted Cruz dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination following the results of the Indiana state primary, at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

BISMARCK – When Donald Trump visits North Dakota later this month, the leader of the state’s oil industry group hopes to hear something different than what has been said on the rugged campaign trail.

“I’m hoping now that he focuses now on more policy-driven issues rather than the combative nature of multiple candidates vying for the nomination,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Organizers announced Wednesday the presumptive Republican presidential nominee will be the keynote speaker at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference this month in Bismarck.

“Love him or hate him, he’s coming here, and it’s our opportunity to listen to him and try to get some North Dakota issues before him,” Ness said.

Trump will speak at 1 p.m. Thursday, May 26, at the Bismarck Event Center. Tickets will be open to the public for $30, with between 5,000 and 6,000 expected to be available, Ness said. Tickets will go on sale at 11:30 a.m. Monday, May 9, at www.ticketmaster.com or the Bismarck Event Center box office, (800) 745-3000.

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Ness encouraged people to get their tickets early.

“We have no idea what the interest level is going to be, but if you look across the country, it’s been high everywhere,” he said.

Those who pay $400 to register for the full May 24-26 conference will be guaranteed to see Trump. Registrations for the conference jumped Wednesday, with more than 1,725 people registered as of mid-afternoon.

“Our timing’s just right with him clearly going to be one of the next two people that’s likely to be president,” Ness said. “The ability to get him to North Dakota and maybe talk about North Dakota issues is a rare opportunity, so we’re thrilled for the chance and excited to make it happen.”

The campaigns for both Trump and Ted Cruz had expressed interest in the conference, the industry group said last week. Cruz dropped out of the presidential race Tuesday night after Trump won Indiana’s primary.

Ness said conference organizers will try to have Trump address questions that are important to North Dakota residents. Those in the oil industry would like to hear Trump talk about his energy policy.

“Just about every day, it seems like the federal government is working against us rather than try and solve the challenges that we’re facing here,” Ness said, adding that he’d like to hear how Trump would change that.

Ness said the industry group has not reached out to Democratic presidential candidates, but the conference would make room for them, too, if any contenders were interested.

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“We would love to get the discussion here,” Ness said. “We would find a spot.”

Nationally, Trump rallies have seen conflicts between supporters and opponents. Ness said the Petroleum Council and the event center staff will work together to get the venue ready for Trump and coordinate with Trump’s team and the Secret Service.

“To the best of our ability, I think we get out of the way,” Ness said.

The Petroleum Council is not paying Trump to speak, said spokeswoman Tessa Sandstrom.

Two years ago, the last time the event was held in Bismarck, the conference featured conservative political commentator Sean Hannity and attracted more than 4,250 registrants, a record expected to be broken this year.

North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Kelly Armstrong said it’s “incredibly great for North Dakota” that the Republican frontrunner for president is going to check out the petroleum conference.

“We have a lot to be proud of out here” despite the downturn, Armstrong said. “We’ve made the United States way less dependent on Mideast oil, and that’s a big deal.”

The event also features famed college football coach Lou Holtz, who will speak before Trump, and CEOs of several oil companies that operate in the Bakken.

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For more information, visit www.wbpcnd.org .

Mike Nowatzki contributed to this report.

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