Maybe North Dakotans Just Don't Want What Democrats Are Selling


We are just one month and 23 days away from the Democrats’ statewide endorsing convention in Bismarck. Are are just 8 months and 29 days away from election day.

Yet the Democrats have not a single statewide candidate even unofficially in a race. That’s bad, and the media has begun to take notice. Bismarck Tribune reporter Nick Smith had a profile on the party’s struggles last week, and the Associated Press kicked out a feature story on it over the weekend.

A central theme of these stories was the why of this situation for Democrats. How did they get to where they’re at today? I thought the AP article provided some good insight into that:

Democrats have struggled because they’ve had difficulty finding candidates willing to go up against entrenched GOP incumbents, they’ve been handicapped by good economic times before the recent oil slowdown, they haven’t focused on building a solid organization from the precinct level up and they’ve failed to effectively articulate policy differences, said Chuck Fleming, chief of staff for former Gov. George A. Sinner, who was in office from 1985-92 and was the last Democrat to hold the office.

“When you combine those things … it produces negative results at the polls,” Fleming said.

Lloyd Omdahl, who was lieutenant governor under Sinner and made his own run in 1996, said Republicans have formidable incumbents. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, for example, the top money-raiser among three Republicans running, won his last election with nearly 75 percent of the vote.

But Democrats also have let the party’s strength erode, according to Omdahl.

“The party structurally and philosophically has been on the decline for a couple of decades now,” he said. “You don’t have a lot of enthusiasm among people when you’re running for an office that’s a long shot.”

Democratic Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen acknowledged that “we’re in a red cycle and we have been for a long time” and that Vogel’s recent decision not to run was another setback. She also said the party was guilty of complacency when “Team North Dakota” was in Congress.

All of these things are true, but there is one glaring omission. Something that’s at the root of all these other problems. I’m not at all surprised that the liberals interviewed for the story missed it (or perhaps weren’t willing to bring it up).

I think Democrats just aren’t selling anything most North Dakotans want. They’ve moved too far to the left, both as a state party and a national party, to be palatable to the political majority in our state. That’s why their party struggles to recruit activists and candidates. That’s why their party struggles to find traction with the larger electorate.

For years Democrats have focused their attacks on social politics. They’ve berated Republicans for their focus on social issues like abortion, and obsessed over social issues of their own like gay rights. While these issues are great for media headlines and social media campaigns, and are important in their own way, they don’t seem to move the needle much with voters in our state.

Under party chairwoman Kylie Oversen the party has said they’re going to get younger and focus on the Legislature. “The way forward for us is to continue to recruit these centrist, hard-working candidates who are also active in their district,” Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider of Grand Forks told Smith for his report.

Schneider has the right of it, but has Oversen received that message? “We’re looking at how we can support progressive candidates in those races,” she told the AP.

“Progressives” are not centrists. Especially the sort of young “progressives” Oversen seems to be recruiting.

Apparently it hasn’t occurred to the Democrats that a bunch of smug twenty-somethings whose idea of campaign messaging is to parrot Rachel Maddow and campus progressive talking points on Twitter and Facebook is not really a winning strategy. They’re going to run these kids in legislative districts around the state, and most of them are going to lose, and the partisan makeup of the Legislature will change very little.

Meanwhile Senator Heidi Heitkamp, the only Democrat to win a statewide election in North Dakota since 2008, has come under fire from her party’s left wing for being too moderate.

You can’t make this stuff up.

I saw this coming back when the Democrats picked Oversen – who has a bad reputation as a  shrill, trenchant ideologue in the Legislature  – as their party’s leader. At a time when the party’s biggest problem is how far to the left they’ve drifted they’ve picked a leader who will take them even further to the left and into irrelevancy.