BEMIDJI --  A bevy of big-name GOP candidates spoke to a standing-room only crowd at the Beltrami County Republicans annual banquet Thursday.

Featured speakers at the American Legion included U.S. congressional candidates Torrey Westrom and Stewart Mills, as well as Minnesota Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald

Westrom highlighted recent troubles with MNsure, the state’s health care exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act, losing its largest insurer. He called news of Golden Valley-based PreferredOne exiting MNsure “very disturbing.” However, Westrom said he’s been hearing complaints about premium increases weeks ahead of the PreferredOne announcement.

“Rural Minnesota, smaller towns, small business are getting hit harder than even the metro areas on the premium increases,” he said. “That’s the continued message I’ve been hearing the past three weeks (on the campaign trail)”.

Westrom, who is running against incumbent Democrat Collin Peterson in Minnesota’s Seventh District, said he is in favor of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

The neighboring Eighth District has been linked to a conflict thousands of miles away as incumbent Congressman, Democrat Rick Nolan, has voiced strong opposition to the U.S. government arming Syrian rebels in order to combat ISIS in the Middle East.

Nolan’s opponent, businessman Stewart Mills, did not take a position on arming the rebels, saying he does not have access to the same intelligence briefings Nolan does.

“We need to make sure we are partnering with the right people to combat the threat of ISIS,” he said. “Because I don’t have the intelligence briefings, I can’t tell you if they are the right people.”

However, Mills did say he was in favor of air strikes against ISIS, and is opposed to a full ground campaign.  

“The one thing that is for sure is that we do have a gathering threat in the Middle East that will be a direct threat to America if it’s allowed to gather, Mills said. “We have to confront that directly.”

Peterson voted in favor of arming the rebels earlier this week when the measure came up in the House of Representatives, while Nolan voted against it.

State Supreme Court candidate MacDonald was convicted in Dakota County on Wednesday of refusing a sobriety test and resisting arrest, but was found not guilty of fourth-degree DWI. The charges stemmed from a April 2013 traffic stop and led to a rift with the state Republican Party, key members of which were unaware of the charges when they endorsed Macdonald as a candidate.

In response to a question from the Pioneer on Thursday on whether her convictions would affect her campaign, Macdonald said no.

“I don’t believe they will, no. They absolutely should not,” Macdonald said. “Because I’m… fighting for justice. When you do that, sometimes there’s a lot of pushback, in particular... from law enforcement and even the lawyers and that kind of thing.”

Previous media reports indicate MacDonald intends to appeal the convictions.

Other candidates who spoke Thursday included Bill Kuisle, running for lieutenant governor, Randy Gilbert, running for state auditor, Dan Severson, running for secretary of state, Scott Newman, running for state attorney general and Dave Hancock, running for Minnesota House of Representatives. GOP candidate for governor, Jeff Johnson, could not attend because of scheduling conflicts. Also not attending was Mike McFadden, who is running against Sen. Al Franken.

The Beltrami County DFL plans to hold its banquet Monday at the Eagles Club.