In recent weeks our Democratic friends here in North Dakota have made an about-face on President Donald Trump. Circa 2016 they were calling the man “vile” and “unfit for office” but in 2018 the party is bragging about how close their top candidate this cycle, Senator Heidi Heitkamp, got to stand to the President at a bill signing ceremony.
This is an act of crass political expediency. Trump still polls very strongly in North Dakota, despite the turbulence of his term in office so far, and Democrats know they have to make nice with the man they hate to win.
But this move to the right isn’t at all comfortable for Democrats. It’s alienating some of their core constituencies, like the folks in the state’s Native American communities who typically vote almost en bloc for Democratic candidates. The Associated Press recently quoted several Native American leaders in North Dakota saying they were disillusioned with state Democrats, and Senator Heidi Heitkamp specifically, over their election year move to the right.
Remember that during the 2016 election cycle the Democrats put several Native American candidates on their ticket for the statewide ballot, including outspoken anti-pipeline activist Chase Iron Eyes who was their candidate for the U.S. House (though those candidates didn’t get a whole lot of support).
Now the North Dakota Republican Party is making an issue out of the Iron Eyes candidacy, specifically, pointing out that despite Heitkamp’s election-year fondness for Republicanism she and her party supported a candidate with some political views well outside the mainstream for North Dakota last cycle:
Chase Iron Eyes not only led violent NODAPL protests — here is his rap sheet:
• Felony Illegal Weapons
• Felony Breaking & Entering
• Criminal Trespass
— ND Republican Party (@NDGOP) June 6, 2018
The erstwhile congressional candidate is scheduled for trial in August for felony charges related to his activities in the #NoDAPL protests.
Iron Eyes, for his part, is distancing himself from Heitkamp (and spelling her name wrong):
The problem with his candidate is not only was he the North Dakota Democratic Partys candidate for the U.S. House last cycle, he actively campaigned for Heitkamp during her first bid for the Senate in 2012:
This sort of mess was always the risk North Dakota Democrats faced with this strategy of trying to move right in the 2018 cycle. They are, fundamentally, a left wing political movement. The only candidate of theirs to win a statewide election in North Dakota since 2008 is Heidi Heitkamp who barely won in 2012. In order to keep her in office they have to move away from their very left wing (and very small) political base to appeal to more mainstream, right-of-center North Dakota voters.
Most voters in North Dakota thought the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline were violent, unlawful, and unwarranted. Yet the North Dakota Democrats literally had one of the protest leaders on their ticket last election cycle, and this cycle they’re trying to paint their top candidate as a close Trump ally.
It’s quite a house of cards they built, and one that’s not likely to withstand a lot of scrutiny.