Is a Move to the Left What North Dakota Democrats Need?

Illus. in: Nonpartisan Leader, April 1, 1918, cover. Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo

Yesterday on my radio show (podcast here, audio below) I interviewed Mark Haugen.

Haugen is the interim chairman of the new Nonpartisan League committee. That’s the group of people who want to take over the NPL part of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL party.

The two political entities merged back in the 1950’s, and the NPL hasn’t had an organized committee since the 1960’s (a full history of the NPL is here). Haugen and his group of fellow progressives want to change that. They’re petitioning former Lt. Governor Lloyd Omdahl, the last secretary of the NPL, to get control of the name.

Many, myself included, see this move as a split in the already tiny base of the state Democratic party. More evidence of fracturing resulting from one election cycle after another of election day losses.

“This is not a split,” he told me. “I took the lead in this so we stay in the Democratic party,” he added.

But Haugen says that isn’t the case.

“This is not a split,” he told me.

“I took the lead in this so we stay in the Democratic party,” he added.

I pointed out to Haugen that there are clearly divides among Democrats in North Dakota as evidence by the grief Senator Heidi Heitkamp – the only Dem to win a statewide election in North Dakota since 2008 – has been getting from the left wing of the party. He acknowledged this, but said the party needs to become more progressive.

“Do we move to the center and become Republican lite?” he asked, saying he’d prefer it if Democrats had more ideological contrast with Republicans. He also pointed out that Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton, won the Democratic primary in North Dakota last year, though I’m not so sure that didn’t have more to do with moderate Democrats voting in the Republican primary.

Democrats lost a lot of primary voters in 2016, compared to the last presidential election cycle in 2012, and Republicans gained them:

The primary vote turnout was very, very lopsided with Republicans seeing more than 5 voters in June of last year for every Democratic voter:

Can Democrats really expect to lure back those voters who went over to Republicans last year with a move left?

“They don’t like the Democratic name,” Haugen said. “Maybe they’ll like the NPL.”

Maybe. Nothing else has worked for the Democrats. But color me skeptical. The woes Democrats have faced in North Dakota is a product of the party being too far to the left of the state’s electorate already. Going further left is a recipe for further marginalization.

Here’s the audio of yesterday’s show:

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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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