For Republicans their table seems largely set for the statewide ballot in 2016, but there’s still one major wildcard out there.
What will Fargo businessman Doug Burgum do?
Burgum has been flirting with a run for governor for months now, since news broke that Governor Jack Dalrymple wouldn’t be seeking another term. When I last talked with Burgum spokeswoman Adrienne Olson in November she said her boss still had a “timetable for a January decision” and that “if he were to run, it would be as a Republican candidate.”
Well it’s January now, and you can bet that Republicans are wondering if they’ll get a third gubernatorial candidate
Already in the race for Republicans, of course, are Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and state Rep. Rick Becker. Democrats don’t yet have a candidate yet, but Senator Heidi Heitkamp has been spotted out raising money for former Agriculture Commissioner Sarah Vogel.
If Burgum jumped into the race it would send shockwaves across North Dakota’s political landscape Burgum is a wealthy man which obviates one of the biggest hurdle first-time candidates face which is fundraising.
What Burgum would have to overcome is name recognition. That may not be a problem in recruiting delegates – people who are very politically engaged and generally know the players – for the state convention. But you can bet that would be on the minds of Republican delegates when selecting their candidate.
Stenehjem has Burgum beat when it comes to name ID, probably even in Burgum’s hometown of Fargo where he’s something of a media darling. Even Rep. Rick Becker probably enjoys greater name recognition than Burgum, at least in the western part of the state.
But will any of that matter? Burgum has the means to make up any name recognition gap with an aggressive marketing campaign, and Republican delegates (rightly or wrongly) may not feel they have to worry about their candidate winning on the statewide ballot.
If they’re sufficiently unimpressed with Vogel (and the potential Democrat candidates don’t exactly get stronger beyond her), the delegates may feel that their vote will end up choosing the governor.
In which case, worrying about candidate electability may be out the window.
All of which presumes that Burgum would even bother seeking the NDGOP convention’s endorsement. He may not, opting instead to go straight to the June primary ballot as Rep. Kevin Cramer did in 2012. Which, if it happen, may inspire both Stenehjem and Becker to follow him there.
A lot hinges on Burgum’s decision. If he doesn’t run the nomination race will likely be settled at the NDGOP convention (as it stands now both Becker and Stenehjem have told me they intend to abide by the convention’s choice). If he does run, I think you can bet on the race extending to the June ballot.