Doug Burgum emerged from the NDGOP state convention this last weekend having topped out at just over 15 percent of the delegate vote.
I’m told that privately Burgum was not happy about the showing after pouring perhaps as much as a million dollars into pre-convention advertising and campaigning, including a free concert for delegates the day before the vote.
Publicly, though, the Burgum campaign is trying to put a happy face on their convention performance. I interviewed Robert Harms, a lobbyist and former chairman of the NDGOP who is serving as a senior adviser to the Burgum campaign, yesterday while guest hosting for Mike McFeely on AM 970 WDAY. He told me that “52 percent of the delegates” voting for Burgum and Becker on the first ballot was a sign that North Dakotans want change.
Burgum was out with the same message yesterday “To me, the news of the weekend was that on the first ballot, 52 percent of the people were voting for something other than the status quo,” he told the Grand Forks Herald.
It was really more like 51.1 percent, but who can blame them for for rounding up?
And using that logic, couldn’t we also say that nearly 85 percent of delegates voted against Burgum?
But one thing I was anxious to ask Harms about was the campaign’s messaging. In their television ads – which you can watch here on the Burgum campaign YouTube channel – it’s all about “career politicians” who are too cozy with “lobbyists” and are responsible for “runaway spending.”
I asked Harms, who lobbied on behalf of six clients during the 2015 legislative session per disclosures filed with the Secretary of State’s office, how the Burgum campaign can be against lobbyists when he himself is a lobbyist.
“I’m not just a lobbyist,” he said. “Lobbying is one aspect of what I do.”
That’s not much of an explanation, I think.
I also asked who Burgum is assigning blame to for the “runaway spending” he is blasting in his ads (case in point). After all, Burgum contributed a lot of money to the two men – John Hoeven and Jack Dalrymple – who have been North Dakota’s governor’s since 2000. And governors are instrumental in spending, setting the spending priorities with their executive budgets and signing to approve each appropriation emerging from the Legislature.
Harms’ answer? “I don’t know that Dour Burgum is assigning blame to anyone.”
So, to make sure we have this straight, North Dakota has “run away spending” but nobody is at fault?
I understand that’s a tightrope Burgum has to walk, running against the Republican record in a Republican state as a Republican, but c’mon. I don’t disagree that there is plenty of room to criticize Republicans on spending. But if you’re going to call out Republicans, have the gumption to call them out.
Harms did say we can expect a change in tone from Burgum’s ads.
“We’ve got a very short window to help North Dakotans understand the issues at play,” he said.
“You’ll see a pivot in terms of the messaging going foward,” he added.
I think that would probably be wise. I’m not sure how much traction this current narrative is getting with the public.