Disgruntled North Dakota Democrats Say the Base Is Mad at Heidi Heitkamp, the Party Is Disorganized


U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp talks about the prospect of temporarily housing refugee children at the Grand Forks Air Force Base during a recent visit to the Grand Forks Herald Editorial Board. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

A funny thing happened this week. Not one but two members of the North Dakota Democratic Party reached out to me, completely independently of one another and with no prompting from me, to complain about how bad things are for their party right now.

Both spoke on condition of anonymity, not wanting to earn the ire of their fellow Democrats for airing dirty laundry in public, and out of a desire to identify the problems in their party in hopes of seeing them fixed.

I reached out two days ago to Robert Haider, the executive director of the state Democratic party, for a response but he didn’t reply to my email.

The first to contact me this week is a fundraiser for the Democrats who has worked for the state party and on past campaigns and told me the base is “pissed” at Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

So angry, in fact, that calls for donations this cycle have been challenging.

“I couldn’t get an ask in without listening to a ten minute rant about what a waste of money she was,” my source told me. “And these were calls that normally would have been easy.”

Senator Heitkamp came under fire from her state party’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention earlier this year.

It’s not just fundraising that has been difficult for the Democrats. The party’s personnel infrastructure, under Chairwoman/college student Kylie Oversen, is a mess.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]”I couldn’t get an ask in without listening to a ten minute rant about what a waste of money she was,” my source told me. “And these were calls that normally would have been easy.”[/mks_pullquote]

“The party in-state has fallen apart to the point that field offices and organizers are opening and starting three months behind schedule, there’s been no [communications] person for months when we used to have comms and deputy comms in [off] years,” my source said. “And not one of our top of the ticket candidates has a professional manager right now to my knowledge.”

“There are also no homegrown Dem-NPL campaign staffers left, and our national hires have been a disaster (Pam Gulleson’s and George Sinner’s managers for example), so it’s not like there’s a quick fix,” they continued.

There is one small bright spot, though. “Our legislative candidates are good and are getting direction,” my source said.

My second source is a member of the Democratic party from Grand Forks, and isn’t happy with Oversen’s leadership either (Oversen is also a state Representative from the Grand Forks area).

This source noted that Oversen is to preside over the opening of a Grand Forks party headquarters today. “An office that is unstaffed, unfurnished, and unorganized,” my source told me. They also alleged that Oversen had been trying to give a key for the office to the local Grand Forks area Democrats but that they’ve refused to take it not wanting responsibility for the headquarters.

Like my other source, this party member from Grand Forks also says that fundraising efforts for the party have been rocky.

“Also of note that the Burdick dinner is a week away and Overson does not have a speaker scheduled. The biggest fundraiser, in an election year, and no keynote speaker. And from what I’m told, ticket sales are not good,” they said.

The dinner is named after former long-time Senator Quentin Burdick and is one of the biggest annual events Democrats stage.

“Her leadership, or lack thereof, is a joke,” the Grand Forks source told me. “At this point in 2012, the GF Dems had a fully staffed, busy and thriving campaign office with many volunteers and engaged candidates. This year, the party leader is turning away volunteers and can’t even get someone to accept a key to the office. What a difference four years makes.”

The 2012 cycle was the last time the North Dakota Democrats got a win on the statewide ballot, with Heitkamp narrowly beating Republican Rick Berg to replace Democrat Kent Conrad in the U.S. Senate. Since then the Democrats have struggled with candidate recruitment, particularly this cycle.

The Democrats have no candidate for state Auditor, and drafted last-minute candidates for Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, Public Service Commission, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate at their state convention in April.