Miss North Dakota Cara Mund crowned new Miss America

Miss North Dakota Cara Mund reacts after being announced as the winner of the 97th Miss America Competition in Atlantic City, N.J., on Sun., Sept. 10, 2017.

Reuters

Last Updated Sep 11, 2017 12:59 AM EDT

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- North Dakota's Cara Mund claimed the crown as Miss America 2018 during Sunday night's competition at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall.

Miss America 2017, Savvy Shields, former Miss Arkansas, placed the crown on the 23-year-old teary-eyed successor's head as the new Miss America accepted applause and cheers from the audience and judges.

Miss North Dakota emerged victorious through a series of swimsuit and talent contests, onstage speeches and two rounds of interviews by judges.

In one of her onstage interviews, Mund said President Trump, a Republican, was wrong to withdraw the U.S. from the climate accord aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

"It's a bad decision," she said. "There is evidence that climate change is existing and we need to be at that table."

In an interview with The Associated Press before preliminary competition began, Mund, who lives in Bismarck, North Dakota, said her goal is to be the first woman elected governor of her state.

She said she wants to see more women elected to all levels of government.

"It's important to have a woman's perspective," Mund, who had an internship in the U.S. Senate, told the AP. "In health care and on reproductive rights, it's predominantly men making those decisions."

An Ivy League graduate from Brown University who is headed to law school, Mund went to high school with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.

"I said, 'If Carson Wentz can do it, Miss North Dakota Cara Mund can become Miss America,'" she said after winning the title.

She is the first contestant from her state to win the Miss America crown.

The first runner up was Miss Missouri Jennifer Davis; second runner up was Miss New Jersey Kaitlyn Schoeffel; third runner up was Miss District of Columbia Briana Kinsey, and fourth runner up was Miss Texas Margana Wood.

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Miss Texas Margana Wood reacts after advancing from the swimsuit component of the Miss America competition in Atlantic City, N.J., on Sun., Sept. 10, 2017.

Reuters

Earlier Sunday, as a deadly hurricane was slamming her home state, Miss Florida Sara Zeng sent a message of support to those in harm's way -- and was then eliminated from the competition.

As judges were narrowing the field of 51 contestants (each state plus the District of Columbia), they interviewed Zeng, a 22-year-old from Palm Coast, Florida, who noted that her family is safe.

But she expressed concern and support for friends and strangers endangered by Hurricane Irma, which was tearing its way up the Florida gulf coast on Sunday.

"I'm thinking about everyone in Florida every single day, but I know that regardless what happens, we'll all get through this together," Zeng said.

Shortly after her speech, judges read the names of the remaining Top 15 finalists, which did not include her.

Earlier in the week, Miss Texas Margana Wood gave a shout-out to her flooded hometown, Houston; she won Wednesday night's swimsuit preliminary.

Zeng won Friday's swimsuit prelim, and promised she'd be part of the post-Irma cleanup and recovery effort, whether as Miss America or not.

The competition took place at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, where it originated as a way to extend summer tourism to the weekend after Labor Day.

They were vying to succeed the outgoing Miss America Savvy Shields, who won the title last September as Miss Arkansas.

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Miss North Dakota 2017 Cara Mund is crowned as Miss America 2018 by Miss America 2017 Savvy Shields during the 2018 Miss America Competition Show at Boardwalk Hall Arena on Sun., Sept. 10, 2017, in Atlantic City, N.J.

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Mr. Trump also figured in another question asked of a finalist onstage. Miss Missouri Jennifer Davis was asked if Mr. Trump's presidential campaign colluded with Russia last year.

She said she does not think enough information has been revealed to support such a charge at this point.

"We should investigate it to its fullest extent, and if we do find evidence, the justice system should do their due diligence," she said.