Clarence Olson: Doug Burgum Should Run As An Independent


Delegates to the North Dakota State Republican Party convention in Fargo on April 2 officially endorsed state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in his quest to become the state’s next governor.

Stenehjem came out on top with 832 votes, for 50.82 percent of the votes cast. Coming in second was Bismarck physician and state Rep. Rick Becker with 618 votes, for 37.75 percent of the votes cast, and finally Fargo businessman Doug Burgum coming in third with 157 votes, for 9.59 percent of the votes cast.

Both Becker and Stenehjem pledged not to run in the June 14 North Dakota state primary election, had they lost the endorsement contest. Only Burgum said that he plans to run in the primary election, regardless of the outcome of the endorsement balloting at the convention.

From my standpoint, strictly as an interested observer of the political process, it seems to me that Burgum is perhaps unwisely rolling the dice in a crap shoot of sorts. It seems to be for Burgum, it’s now become an all or nothing bid for him to become the next governor of North Dakota. The reason I say that is, while he lost the endorsement race, the law in North Dakota does allow him to file as a party candidate in the primary election and challenge Stenhjem for the Republican nomination for governor.

Remember, a political party endorsement is just that. An endorsement. The actual party nominations come as a result of the public’s balloting in the primary election. In North Dakota, whenever there is a contested primary election contest, whichever candidate receives a plurality of the vote in that race advances to the general election. The other candidate or candidates go home. State law prohibits a candidate who loses a primary election contest from running for the same office that year in the general election, even as a third-party candidate or as an independent. This is in accordance with Section 16.1-13-06 of the North Dakota Century Code, which says:

“16.1-13-06. Defeated primary candidate ineligible to have name printed on general ballot – Exception. Except to fill a vacancy occurring on the ballot, an individual who was a candidate for nomination by any party or a candidate for a no-party office at any primary election in any year and who was defeated for the nomination may not have that individual’s name printed upon the official ballot at the ensuing general election for the same office.”

In other words, if Burgum loses to Stenehjem on June 14; he would be barred from running for governor in the general election on Nov. 8. This is why I mentioned earlier that Burgum’s decision to enter the primary, despite the outcome of the convention balloting, is a crap shoot on his part.

If Burgum really wants to be governor, my advice would be that he skip the primary election, and then file as a candidate directly on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. I’m not certain if he could run under a party designation in the general election, or if he would have to run as an independent.

Stenehjem, who has served in office as attorney general since 2001, is extremely popular in this state. He won his last re-election bid for attorney general in 2014 by just over 74 percent of the vote.

I think Burgum is going to need all the luck he can get to wrestle the GOP nomination away from Stenehjem and advance to the general election in November.