This Is What May Be Keeping North Dakota Republicans Up At Night


Could North Dakota Republicans become a victim of the state’s success?

Let me explain.

By any conventional measure, North Dakota Republicans seem set to have another very successful election cycle. They’ve got a huge incumbency advantage. Every single Republican on the statewide ballot is an incumbent (though two of them – Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger and Public Service Commissioner Fedorchak – are appointees). In the legislative races, 49 of the Republicans 66 candidates are incumbents compared to Democrats who are putting just 10 incumbents on the ticket.

At the top of the ticket, Rep. Kevin Cramer seems to be on cruise control. Through the end of June, Cramer has a more than 2-1 cash on hand advantage over his opponent Democrat George Sinner, and a more than 3-1 advantage in terms of funds raised from North Dakota individuals. While Sinner has had a slim lead over Cramer in fundraising during the last two reporting periods, Sinner entered the race late and is way behind where Democrat Pam Gulleson was in terms of fundraising at this point in the 2012 cycle (a race she lost, obviously, to Cramer).

The only place where Republicans seem vulnerable this year is on oil impact issues. North Dakota’s riding an industrial and social boom, and the side effects of that sometimes aren’t great. Elevated levels of crime. Pipeline spills. Train derailments. These are real challenges, and Democrats (with the advantage of being in the extreme minority so that they haven’t had to actually, you know, govern or anything) are playing some 20/20 hindsight. Some woulda-coulda-shoulda, pointing out all the things the state should have been doing from after the fact.

The thing is, it’s hard to say that’s getting any traction with the public. One national public opinion poll found that North Dakotans trust their (Republican-dominated) government more than any other state. Another one found North Dakotans to be the people least likely to want to leave their state. Yet another poll found North Dakota to be the happiest state in the nation.

I can go on:

In fact, things are so good in the state I think it’s going to be reflected in voter turnout. The June election here saw one of the lowest voter turnouts ever recorded in the state, with just over 17 percent of eligible voters showing up. You could say that’s because there really wasn’t anything to draw voters to the ballot – few competitive races, no really exciting ballot initiatives – but certainly that’s been the case in past June elections. Why was this one so low?

The answer is likely because people are content. And that may be a problem for Republicans.

Happy, content North Dakota voters – those most likely to vote for the status quo – may not turn up at the polls. Unsatisfied, unhappy North Dakotans – those least likely to keep voting for Republicans – are probably much more likely to turn up.

That could turn into an advantage for Democrats.

It’s hard to say how much of an advantage – in fact, it’s hard to overstate just how large a partisan advantage Republicans enjoy in the state – but it could impact some close races on the statewide ticket and could certainly result in some surprising outcomes in the legislative races.

Republicans dare not get complacent. Things are good in North Dakota, but it would be far too easy to lose because Republican voters don’t feel like they have to do much to win.

It would be ironic if Democrats scored some victories this fall not so much because they were the better candidates, but because the state has been so successful under Republican leadership that Republicans became complacent.