Yesterday Fargo businessman and NDGOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum got some bad news in the form of an ugly poll which showed him losing in a head-to-head Republican primary contest to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem 59 to 10.
In response Burgum told reporter Mike Nowtazki his problem was just name recognition, something he can fix between now and the June election:
Burgum said the results were “not surprising at all” given Stenehjem’s name recognition from his 15 years as attorney general and 24 years as a state legislator before that.
Burgum said the campaign so far has targeted district convention attendees, suggesting he has time to build name recognition with the larger voting populace.
“I would say the primary race hasn’t really even started,” he said.
I’m not sure Burgum is understanding how serious a problem this is. It’s not a name recognition problem. More accurately, it’s not just a name recognition problem. It’s that a strong majority of Republican primary voters have already chosen Stenehjem. Even if every single one of the 31 percent of undecided Republican primary voters went to Burgum in June he’d still lose the race to Stenehjem by 18 points.
And here’s a prediction: Burgum won’t get all 31 percent of those undecideds.
Further, even where Burgum is the most well-known (in the eastern, urban areas of the state) he’s getting a shellacking from Stenehjem. According to the poll’s crosstabs, Burgum got his largest level of support from the “East Cities” region. But that was still just 14 percent compared to Stenehjem’s 57 percent.
Burgum is something of a media darling in Fargo. He’s in the headlines a lot with regard to his various business ventures and development projects. He’s well known there, but still a majority of Republican primary voters are picking Stenehjem.
That’s not a name recognition problem. That’s a people are choosing the other guy problem.
Ever since Burgum got into the gubernatorial race I’ve wondered about his support in Fargo. The conventional wisdom is that he’d do well on the ballot there because, again, he’s a successful and well-regarded businessman who has done a lot of good for the Fargo area. But I think his sometimes strident support for denser and downtown-centric development in Fargo has been polarizing for a lot of people there.
Burgum may be popular with a klatch of downtown Fargo society, I’m not sure he’s as popular as some think in the greater Fargo area.
I think Burgum needs to dominate in Fargo if he hopes to beat Stenehjem on a statewide vote, and the evidence so far is he may not be able to do that.
Could Democrats maybe bail Burgum out by crossing party lines to vote in the Republican primary? There’s nothing stopping them – North Dakota has a wide open primary process which doesn’t even require voter registration – and it’s fun for political wonks like me to talk about it (read my previous column), but how likely is it to help Burgum?
For one thing, there just aren’t that many Democrats in North Dakota. For another, what Democrats there are tend to be hard-bitten partisans likely to turn up their noses at voting on a Republican ballot.
Here’s the full pulling memo: