2016 has been the year of political upsets. President-elect Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, the Republicans were able to maintain control of the US Senate, and the vast majority of political pundits were wrong at every turn.
But in Grand Forks, a campaign upset was brewing that almost nobody saw coming. Kylie Oversen was a rising star in the National Democratic Party, and Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider was extremely well liked in Grand Forks. On top of that, many believed that UND students would turn out in mass for Hillary Clinton. In 2012, Obama carried District 42 by 4 points. Very few people believed that Donald Trump would perform well among college students, which would lead to a Democrat sweep in Grand Forks. For all these reasons, very few believed that Curt Kreun, Jake Blum, and Emily O’Brien would be victorious on November 8th.
As the results came in on election night, it was the District 42 Republican team that shocked the state of North Dakota. Curt Kreun outpaced Mac Schneider by roughly 5 points. Jake Blum was the top vote-getter in the state house race, as he finished the night with a 3 point lead over Kylie Oversen. Many of us who were at Jake’s victory party began to pinch ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming. The seemingly impossible task of defeating two popular legislators became reality, and the celebration began!
Since that historic night, many North Dakota politicos and activists have wondered how exactly this shocking upset came to be. How did two young Republican candidates upset the better funded, (and for the most part, well-liked) Democrats? What happened to all the college students who were going to turn out in mass for Hillary Clinton? Wasn’t Donald Trump supposed to perform terribly among college age voters?
When asked about the secrets to his success, Representative Blum said, “A lot of it came down to the basics. It starts at the top of the ticket. Donald Trump won District 42 by 10 points, energizing college students and Grand Forks residents. Very few people predicted that President-elect Trump would swing our district 14 points from the 2012 results. So you have to start with the top of the ticket, and how President-elect Trump performed much better than many expected.
At the local level, we outworked Kylie and the Democrats at every step of the race. While they were running fancy TV ads and sending out negative mail pieces, we were engaging voters at the door and on campus. I think, at the end of the day, voters saw that we were actually willing to do the hard work to earn their vote, and that’s why they chose the District 42 Republican team to represent Grand Forks in the North Dakota legislature.”
Blum’s Chief Strategist, Billy Grant, added, “Our digital marketing strategy was incredibly effective when you look at student turnout. We ran a number of digital ads on Facebook and Twitter, and with each ad we gained more momentum. One of our ads reached more than 30,000 people, at a much cheaper price than sending out 30,000 pieces of mail. So our marketing strategy was not only more cost effective, but it was much more popular with UND students. When you look at the final vote count, I think our digital marketing strategy was able to put us over the top.”
My friends Jake Blum and Emily O’Brien will be the two youngest legislators in North Dakota. It has yet to be seen whether their innovative campaign strategy will significantly influence future North Dakota campaigns. One thing is for sure, they pulled off one of the biggest upsets in 2016, and shook the ranks of the North Dakota Democratic Party.
When asked about his priorities for the upcoming Legislative Assembly, Blum said he will be sticking to his promises of improving job and education opportunities for Grand Forks Residents, and added, “stay tuned” for big announcements on legislation.