The conventional wisdom in North Dakota politics is that Democrats who want to win on the statewide ballot here have to position themselves as Republicans. Senator Heidi Heitkamp did it in 2012, barely edging Republican Rick Berg with an aggressive campaign against Barack Obama.
Now it looks like Democrat Tax Commissioner candidate Jason Astrup is trying to get to the right of Republican Ryan Rauschenberger by talking like a conservative.
Check out his emailed fundraising pitch below – sent out yesterday – supporting his call for an end to state taxes on Social Security income, something he calls the “senior citizen tax” (which I’ve written about previously).
“My opponents can rebuke this proposal all they want,” a defiant Astrup says of his plan. “They can believe that senior citizens live the life of luxury off of existing benefits. You and I know that every dollar that stays in your pocket, every dollar not taken by the government, will benefit you and your loved ones.”
Let me repreat those words for you: “You and I know that every dollar that stays in your pocket, every dollar not taken by the government, will benefit you and your loved ones.”
Those sound like the sort of words President Barack Obama might call anti-government extremism. The idea that individual citizens might generally know better what to do with their money than the government? That’s heresey in liberal circles.
But a necessary sort of heresy for Democrats who want to win elections in North Dakota, though I think we fairly be a bit skeptical how dedicated Astrup is to that principle.
I believe North Dakota is a state that’s still trending conservative (or, at least, more Republican). Democrats haven’t had a majority in either house of the state Legislature since 1994, and they haven’t held the governorship since 1992. While 2012 was an election year that left Republicans feeling down – there was a lot of confidence that Berg would beat Heitkamp and pick up that Senate seat – from a different perspective Democrats actually lost ground. Republicans picked up the last state office held by a Democrat – Kirsten Baesler was voted in as Superintendent of Public Schools after getting the NDGOP endorsement – and Heitkamp barely held onto a Senate seat Democrats have controlled since Quentin Burdick first won it in 1960.
Democrats probably wouldn’t admit to any of this publicly, but they tacitly admit it when it seems like they’re cribbing their campaign materials from Milt Friedman.
Here’s Astrup’s email: