To be the leader of the North Dakota Democratic Party in 2016 is to be someone whose principal duty is to polish turds.
Case in point Chairwoman Kylie Oversen acting nonchalant about Democrats crossing over to the Republican ticket in such large numbers in the Tuesday primary vote that she was one of several liberal lawmakers who almost didn’t get enough votes to advance to the general election ballot:
The number of people who voted on the Democratic-NPL ballot in Tuesday’s primary might have been lower than in the typical primary election, but party officials aren’t too worried.
“We don’t hang our hats on the turnout during the primary,” said Rep. Kylie Oversen, the party chairwoman.
More than 30,000 people voted on the Democratic ballot in the 2014 primary, and more than 50,000 did in 2012. Only 17,185 cast votes on the Democratic side’s uncontested governor race on Tuesday.
The party didn’t have any contested races, and since there were contested races on the Republican side — most notably the governor race — Oversen wasn’t surprised that some Democrats voted on the Republican ballot.
“It’s obvious that more Democrats crossed over than we expected,” she said.
The crossover vote wasn’t just because Republicans had a competitive race while Democrats did not. In the 2012 primary Republicans had a very heated competition for the U.S. House nomination between Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk and Kevin Cramer, who won and is now the state’s at-large Congressman. Democrats had no competitive races on their ticket.
In that 2012 race the ratio between votes for the Republican and Democratic tickets were well within historical norms. It’s the 2016 ratio between partisan voters that sticks out like a sore thumb:
In primary votes prior to 2016 Democrats simply did not cross over to the Republican ticket in any meaningful numbers, even when the Republican ticket was competitive and the Democratic ticket was not.
What happened in 2016 is that Republicans had a candidate in Doug Burgum with a lot of appeal to Democrats.
That ought to be frightening to already thoroughly marginalized Democrats, because what happens when/if Burgum begins campaigning for down-ballot Republicans? Particularly legislators in districts Democrats are hoping to pick up ground?
Some, perhaps even most, of the Democrats who crossed over for Burgum in Tuesday’s vote will go back to voting for Demcorats on the general election ballot. But some might be convinced to stick with Republicans. Again, especially if Burgum leverages that appeal into support for down-ballot Republican candidates.
North Dakota voters, historically, don’t mind voting for candidates from both parties on the same ballot. We’ve had a lot of years with Republicans and Democrats both winning large majorities on the statewide ballot, clear evidence of ballot mixing.
But Burgum could be the sort of leader, if he tries, capable of concinving Demcorats and independent voters to stick to the Republican ticket.