Dem Candidate Marvin Nelson: Without Democrat Crossover Burgum/Stenehjem Race Would Have Been "Extremely Close"


TOM STROMME/Tribune Rep. Marvin Nelson (D-Rolla) speaks to the 2016 North Dakota Democratic-NPL party state convention while accepting the party endorsement for governor.

With Fargo businessman Doug Burgum ascendant after his landslide victory over Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem last night in the gubernatorial primary, his general election opponent Marvin Nelson had some interesting thoughts on the win.

In an interview on the Need to Know Morning Show on AM 1100 The Flag WZFG with Steve Hallstrom (audio below), Nelson noted that Burgum got a big influx from Democratic voters.

“If you look at it, my own county of Rolette County, twice as many people voted Republican as voted Democrat,” he said. “But in the fall every Democrat is going to get 70 or 80 percent of the vote.”

“It’s clear that the race without that crossover would have been extremely close,” he added.

The math agrees with him I think. As I noted earlier today, the ratio of Republican voters to Democratic voters on the primary ballot was way outside of historical norms:

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If we look at the turnout numbers for the Republican and Democratic tickets on primary ballots from 2000 to 2014 we can see that the average Democratic turnout has been just under 40,000 voters. But in the 2016 primary statewide Democratic candidates saw an average turnout of 16,585.

That’s a difference of about 23,000 voters. Burgum’s margin of victory over Stenehjem was 23,650 votes.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]”It’s clear that the race without that crossover would have been extremely close,” he added.[/mks_pullquote]

It’s not definite that Burgum won because Democrats crossed over, but Democrats definitely crossed over in big numbers and it was definitely a factor in at least the margin of his victory. At the very least, as Nelson notes, the race would have been much closer without the Democrats voting on the Republican ballot.

Hallstrom asked Nelson if he thought these Democrats were voting strategically, because they saw Burgum as the weaker of the two Republican candidates, or because they just liked Burgum better.

“The biggest reason people crossed over was to heck with the good old boys in Bismarck,” Nelson said.

“Primarily I think it was throw a monkey wrench in the engine and see what happens,” he continued. “I think people more strongly voted against Wayne than for Doug.”

“I still have to win the votes,” Nelson said when asked if he was nervous about Democrats crossing over to vote for a Republican. “That’s one of the things when you run against somebody coming out of a primary challenge, by definition you always get a strong guy.”

I think Democrats are feeling cheerful today because they feel like they forced Burgum down the throats of Republicans. Maybe that’s true, but if I were them I’m not sure I’d feel so good about so many voters crossing over and leaving an uninspiring Demcoratic ticket behind.

And who knows, maybe Burgum really will be as conservative as he campaigned. I’m open to being convinced.