LegitSlater: 2014 Mid Term Election Reflection

It’s finally over. The ads have grown annoying, even for the candidates and measures I support. I am worn out from debating the issues in this election. I can only imagine how the candidates and committees feel as they have been living it for the past several months.

As I write this (it’s Tuesday night, so some remarks below may be aged by the time you read them), I am awaiting the election return results to fully populate on the Secretary of State website. I am not sure if this is out of curiosity or for a sense of closure, or maybe both. Either way I guess I also want to consider it a celebration of our democratic process — granted it is much more fun of a celebration if your candidate or cause prevailed. But, we do have the best process in the world. Far from perfect, but still the best so long as people choose to actively participate in it.

As I await the results to be finalized, I reflect on the following:

LIBERTARIANS

Jack Seaman did you proud this election, even though he didn’t make a significant impact in the vote count let alone win. He was sincere and articulate, and that showed during the debates and in his interviews. That was a refreshing change. He also understood the issues. All in all, not a bad showing for a guy who truly ran a part time campaign.

This party does offer a fresh alternative, especially to disgruntled NDGOP’ers who are tired of the leftist leanings and lack of commitment by their party to conservative values. While the ideologies don’t always perfectly line up (especially in foreign policy and social issues), many values espoused by Libertarians are in lockstep with conservative Republicans. Indeed, Jack Seaman is himself a frustrated ex-NDGOP member.

Libertarians do seem, however, to make the same mistake over and over. They keep shooting for the moon i.e. statewide offices without building up credibility in local and Legislative offices. You have a great message that can sell in North Dakota, but you need to start closer to the grassroots level. Local seats as well as the State Legislature are winnable by the right candidate with the right message who is willing to put in the sweat equity to get that message in front of voters right at their front doors. If you are serious about your party gaining traction in this state, focus your efforts locally and on the State Legislature and skip running for statewide offices until you seat some candidates — and they prove they can govern.

DEMOCRATS

It appears the assumption going in to election night that NDGOP candidates will win all statewide offices on the ballot will hold true. Not only did the NDGOP candidates prevail, they dominated their Dem-NPL (and in some cases Libertarian) opponents. It is clear that the Dem-NPL is a party in a bit of a crisis. They do appear to have been making a nick or two in the NDGOP legislative supermajority (see below) by taking out at least one high profile Senator. But the fact remains that, outside of Heidi Heitkamp last election (who squeezed by by around 1,000 votes), the Dem-NPL just can’t win statewide offices of late, and probably will not for some time to come.

This puts them in a similar situation almost as the Libertarians, although to a lesser degree. While the Dem-NPL cannot ignore all the statewide offices, one wonders if maybe their best strategy going forward is to focus on winning one or two; perhaps not even fielding a full slate of statewide office candidates. One can’t avoid the fact that those being put on the ballot as of late are placeholders versus actual contenders who actually have a chance to win. Even Jason Astrup could not capitalize on Ryan Rauschenberger’s alcohol issues and turn that into an upset.

In 2016, the Governor’s chair will be available as will a Senate and House seat. The DPI Superintendent will be on the block, as will the Auditor and Treasurer. John Hoeven is too popular, and based on the way Kevin Cramer has soundly beaten two Dem-NPL candidates; it may be best for the Democrats to bypass the House and Senate seats. The current Governor could be vulnerable to the right candidate, though, and Kirsten Baesler has made no friends in her blind defense of Common Core State Standards. It may be in the Dem-NPL’s best interest to start small in rebuilding the party and grow momentum back over time. Making the Governor’s race close (and maybe pulling off an upset) coupled with taking back DPI would be a good start to rebuilding that momentum.

OBAN VS. SITTE

As I write this it’s clear that Erin Oban will be the next Senator from District 35 in Bismarck. With the amount of money she raised and spent (much more than some statewide races), to have not won would have led to some pretty embarrassing discussions between her camp and her donors. She also had to shed any strand of liberalism or Democrat-NPL party identity to do so, which is hard for a person like her to do.

So do I think she has much to be proud of in her victory? Absolutely not. The election was more bought than won (come on, it is a state legislative seat), and she had to pretend she was someone she is not to pull off the ruse. But, the question remaining is will she be able to keep up the charade during the session? I seriously doubt it.

Conversely, the NDGOP all but let Margaret Sitte swing in the wind this election. There were several other Bismarck districts up for election this year, and each one was pretty much a lock. Yet, very little effort was expended by Republicans in the Bismarck area from the other districts to save Sitte’s seat from being sniped by the Democrats. Republicans actively supported Oban. Republicans did not put up an alternative to Sitte (if they were not satisfied with how she represented the district) at the District Convention, and then did not do enough to support her once she was renominated. The NDGOP should be ashamed and embarrassed for not lifting a proverbial finger, but based on how this party looks more and more every day like the superminority Dem-NPL one in their ideology and voting, perhaps they were content to let Sitte get taken out.

Oban did not win and Sitte did not lose, so much as the NDGOP did not do their part to save this Senate seat. It was one that could have been saved with some consolidation of effort by the NDGOP.

DISTRICT 41

The other legislative seats targeted by the Dem-NPL for flipping were in District 41; specifically the House seats held by Al Carlson and Bette Grande. They were being challenged by Pamela Anderson (no, not that one from Baywatch) and Sheila Christensen. At last check this one could be headed for a recount. Carlson appears safe, but Grande is slightly behind Anderson at 1,468 to 1,497 respectively. If Anderson prevails, this could be another embarrassment for the NDGOP. Similar to Oban, lots of resources were poured in to help Anderson prevail over Grande, and the question remains is did the NDGOP do all they could to save her — or did they prefer to let her swing in the wind too as they did with Sitte?

CONGRESS

Retaining control of the US House of Representatives while running up the majority by 10 more seats, and flipping control of the US Senate was the highlight of the night for the Republican brand. Had they not won the Senate back, the embarrassments would have been indescribable. All was in place to flip this chamber this election, but Republicans have the ability to screw these things up pretty easily. In the end they did manage to take the Senate and avoid an election night gaffe.

Now the question remains is how will they work with an obstinate President on moving the country forward. Bill Clinton did find a way to make it work after the 1994 trouncing his party took in Congress, but Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. I also don’t think Obama really cares if nothing gets done on his watch anymore, with his popularity in the tank and no real way ahead to improve that (as narcissistic as he is, its all about him, and if he can’t fix his popularity he really has no motivation to lead the country either). The problem that will of course present is, now that the people have turned Congress over to the GOP, who will get the “do-nothing” label hung on them for the 2016 races (including Presidential)? Democrats are slick enough to possibly make that stick to Congress, unless Republicans don’t get better at articulating their own messaging which shows they are doing all they reasonably can to work with a stubborn President.

THE MEASURES (ALMOST FORGOT)

As of the time of this writing, it appears as if all but Measure 2 will be defeated. This is in keeping with past performance of initiated measures. Simply put, the voters of this state don’t need much convincing to vote no on anything and plenty to vote yes. Even Measure 2 was sort of a “no” vote in that yes meant no to a tax.

It’s bittersweet for me personally. I had particularly hoped that North Dakotans could see through the lies surrounding the efforts to defeat Measures 1, 3, 6, and 7 (you know what these are by number by now due to all the interest the measures have caused… or you should). Conversely, I am glad they didn’t buy the snake oil being peddled by supporters of Measure 5. I was genuinely surprised Measure 8 was defeated, but I do hope School Boards take this to heart and actually start listening to the people who elect them.

And with that, the 2014 election is a wrap. Thanks for playing and we will see you again in 2016. (Well, actually next week)

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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