The uncanny valley is an idea in the field of robotics related to how humans react to robots which look like them.
Humans tend to like robots that don’t look at all like humans, or that look indistinguishable from humans, but present an “uncanny valley” of negative feelings toward robots which look almost-but-not-quite human.
Back in January I used this term to describe the problem of gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum’s political appeal.
Where Burgum is known best, and is the most popular, is in the left-leaning Fargo areas. He’s a hit among the “BMW liberals” as a recent letter-writer to the Fargo Forum put it, but what appeals to that faction of voters isn’t going to play with more conservative voters in the rest of the state.
Thus, the uncanny valley. How does Burgum increase support among conservatives without decreasing it among more liberal voters? That’s the question I asked in January, and now months into the candidate’s big-money marketing campaign I think we have our answer.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]It’s hard to see Democrats abandoning their own primary ballot to vote en masse for Trump-loving, Obamacare-bashing Burgum on the Republican ballot. It’s also hard see how Burgum has a path to victory against Stenehjem without that crossover vote from the left.[/mks_pullquote]
He has chosen not to play that game.
Burgum has gone all-in on branding himself as a conservative. He has attacked from the right the spending record of status-quo Republicans (including some, like Governor Jack Dalrymple, he helped elect). He has attacked his opponent, Wayne Stenehjem, for supposedly being a supporter of Obamacare. He has come out in favor of perennial conservative hobby horses like term limits. He’s even endorsed Donald Trump, who after this cycle is sure to go down in history alongside Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon, and the Koch brothers as a bête noire for the left with generational staying power.
All of this has probably moved the needle for Burgum among conservative, Republican voters but it has likely cost him any chance he had of a significant amount of cross over vote from Democrats.
You see, North Dakota has an open primary. There is nothing at all stopping Democrats from voting for Republican candidates. Before his campaign Burgum was widely perceived as social liberal and fiscal moderate. In other words, an appealing candidate for North Dakota Democrats as a less-bad option given that their own party is flirting with irrelevancy.
But now? It’s hard to see Democrats abandoning their own primary ballot to vote en masse for Trump-loving, Obamacare-bashing Burgum on the Republican ballot. It’s also hard see how Burgum has a path to victory against Stenehjem without that crossover vote from the left.
Maybe Burgum has undermined Stenehjem’s support among traditional North Dakota Republicans enough to give himself a win. Maybe socially conservative fringe candidate Paul Sorum can pull enough percentage points to skew the outcome in Burgum’s favor.
These are long shots, though. And a man who has spent as much money on his campaign as Burgum has – it has to be multiple millions at this point – shouldn’t be down to betting on long shots.
But more likely is that Burgum has failed to convince Republicans skeptical of is conservative bona fides while simultaneously alienating moderates and liberals who might have been willing to vote for a less right-wing campaign.
If Burgum wins this campaign the political consultants are going to look like geniuses.
But if he loses, it’s going to look like they took advantage of Burgum’s ambition to milk him of a lot of cash.