NDGOP Statewide Candidates Cash Advantage, But Dems Close In Ag Commission Race

The candidates for statewide office in North Dakota have filed the pre-general general election reports, and to the extent that fundraising can tell us anything, it appears as though most Republican candidates have a pretty major advantage over Democrats heading into November.

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers from the pre-general reports.

All Republicans vs. All Democrats

Looking at all of the candidates together, it’s pretty clear that Republicans have a big advantage over Democrats.

The Democrat candidates collectively raised $486,581.76 while Republicans almost doubled that number banking $823,963.65. But Republicans have spent a lot more than Democrats have as well. Heading into the final weeks of the campaign, Republicans have $458,434.34 or 35.75 percent of the what they raised still on hand. Democrats have $330,933.64 or 40.48 percent left.

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This means that overall Republican statewide candidates – all incumbents – have already spent far more than their Democrat challengers on getting re-elected, and still have more than Democrats left to spend as of the end of the pre-general reporting period.

This holds true if we look at every single statewide race except for the first one we’ll look at specifically, which is also likely to be the closest statewide race.

Agriculture Commissioner

Democrat Ryan Taylor, who lost his gubernatorial bid in 2012 to Jack Dalrymple, had initially said that he didn’t plan on running in 2014. He changed his mind after SayAnythingBlog.com broke the news about Goehring seeking training and counseling for some inappropriate comments he’d made with staff, and after the a candidate backed by the North Dakota Farm Bureau challenged Goehring for the NDGOP nomination. Goehring won that nomination handily, but it has made his re-election anything but sure as Taylor has run a quiet but competent campaign against him.

Based on the fundraising details, this race is a close one.

Goehring has raised slightly more than Taylor – $338,808.00 to $285,189.91 – but Taylor has significant advantage in cash on hand heading into the final weeks of the election. At the end of the pre-general reporting period Taylor was reporting $243,564.24 in cash on hand to Goehring’s $161,082.00.

That puts Goerhing in the position of being the only Republican on the statewide ballot without a cash on hand advantage over the Democrat challenger.

There are probably two ways of looking at that advantage. On one hand, Taylor has more to spend in the key weeks of the election than Goehring does (setting aside what fundraising the candidates might do between now and election day). But it also means that Goehring has spent a lot more on campaigning than Taylor.

I can tell you that Taylor’s campaign has certainly flown under the radar so far. Is that good or bad? It’s hard to say. But money sitting in your campaign account doesn’t win elections. Campaigning does. And having a big money advantage in the final weeks when the airwaves are going to be clogged with ads for and against the state’s ballot measures may not be that much of an advantage at all.

With a seat on the North Dakota Industrial Commission at stake – the Ag Commissioner serves there along with the Governor and Attorney General – there are a lot of special interests looking at this race. Both candidates seem to be benefitting from out of state contributions with around 32 percent of their campaign cash originating outside of North Dakota.

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Tax Commissioner

At the beginning of the election cycle nobody expected this race to be competitive. Rauschenberger was widely seen as a competent candidate, with years of experience in the Tax Commissioner’s office as former Commissioner Cory Fong’s deputy. He had strong fundraising, and Democrats nominated a cream puff candidate named Jason Astrup, an attorney from Fargo who was an unknown political observers on the right and left. But then SayAnythingBlog.com broke the news about Rauschenberger’s struggles with alcohol addiction last month, and the candidate has been off the campaign trail seeking treatment ever since.

So you would expect this race to have gotten competitive, except it really hasn’t. It’s hard to tell how voters will react to Rauschenberger’s alcohol problems – it’s worth noting that the Forum Communications-owned newspapers all endorsed him this week, so there’s that – but it certainly hasn’t translated into financial support for Astrup’s campaign.

During the pre-general reporting period Raushcenberger raised $81,886.00 to Astrup’s $40,403.02. In terms of cash on hand, Rauschenberger has a $32,743.79 to $19,024.49 advantage over Astrup.

That’s not for want of trying. After the news of Rasuchenberger’s struggles went public Democrats sent out several emailed fundraising pitches on behalf of Astrup, but that hasn’t done much for the candidate.

The outcome of this race, I think, is going to hinge on Ruaschenberger’s return to the campaign trail. If he can convince voters that he’s bested his demons and can get back to work, he’ll win. If he flubs his return, or if more damaging revelations emerge, he’ll lose.

But it’s all on Rauschenberger. Astrup seems to be a non-factor.

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Regular Public Service Commission Election

Usually there is just one PSC race on the North Dakota ballot per cycle, but Governor Dalrymple’s appointment of Julie Fedorchak to replace Commissioner-turned-Congressman Kevin Cramer has to be approved by the voters, so this cycle we have two.

But first we’ll look at the regular PSC race. Commissioner Brian Kalk’s six-year term is at an end, and he’s facing Democrat challenger Todd Reisenauer.

Kalk, a former Marine who runs his campaigns with a military sort of efficiency and energy, is acknowledged by many to be the hardest working campaigner in the state. That holds up under financial scrutiny as he has a wide lead over Reisenauer.

Kalk raised $145,309.50 in the pre-general reporting period, and has $33,135.41 in cash on hand heading into the final weeks of the campaign. Reisenauer has raised far less, just $36,430.00, and has also spent far less with $18,708.00 in cash on hand.

Reisenauer and fellow Democrat Tyler Axness, who is taking on Fedorchak, have perhaps been more active in pushing their message to the statewide media than any other Democrat candidates, but they don’t seem to be getting a lot of traction.

It’s hard to imagine Kalk losing this race.

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Special Public Service Commission Election

Julie Fedorchak is on the statewide ballot this cycle because she was appointed by Governor Dalrymple to complete former Commissioner, and current Congressman, Kevin Cramer’s unexpired term. Because state law requires such appointments to be validated in the next general election, Fedorchak will have to win election this year and re-election in 2016 to hold her seat.

She’s facing Democrat state Senator Tyler Axness, and seems to be on cruise control to election victory. Axness and his fellow Democrat PSC candidate Todd Reisenauer have been running a sort of joint campaign against Fedorchak and her fellow Republican Brian Kalk. They’ve accused both of being too reactive, instead of proactive, when it comes to issues like pipeline spills.

Axness and Reisenauer have been very active in pushing their message to the media – perhaps more so than any other Democrat statewide candidates – but it hasn’t brought in the dollars.

Fedorchak raised $139,479.15 in the pre-general reporting period, and had $101,577.14 in cash on hand at the end of that period. Axness has raised $60,213.70 and has just $30,005.60 in cash on hand.

With Fedorchak paired with a popular incumbent running an aggressive campaign, it’s hard to see how Axness can overcome both her momentum and fundraising advantage.

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Secretary of State

Al Jaeger was first elected as Secretary of State in North Dakota around the same time Jay Leno took over The Tonight Show from Johnny Carson. Under the dictionary definition of “entrenched incumbent” they should print a picture of Al Jaeger. He’s been there for a while, and rumors in Republican circles is that he hopes to be in office long enough to set a record for the longest serving Secretary of State ever, a record set by the 33-year run by Republican Ben Meier, from 1955 – 1988, the longest tenure for any state-based Secretary of State in US history.

But to do that Jaeger has to win in 2014. Can he do it?

Maybe.

North Dakotans really, really don’t like electing new people to the Secretary of State position. Since the creation of the position in 1889, North Dakota has had just 14 different people serve as Secretary of State, the least number among any of the state offices created in that year. But Jaeger has been making some mistakes of late, and Democrat challenger April Fairfield has been making the most of them (she even cribbed from a SayAnythingBlog.com post for her campaign announcement).

The conventional wisdom is that Jaeger’s problems are too inside-basebal for the average voter, and that he’ll cruise to yet another election victory. But Fairfield’s fundraising is surprisingly strong. She’s really not that far behind Jaeger.

The incumbent raised $64,083.00 in the pre-general reporting period, compared to Fairfield’s $50,660.67. At the end of the period, Jaeger had a pretty big cash advantage at $42,842.00 to Fairfield’s $50,660.67.

But Fairfield has spent a lot more than Jaeger, and that could translate into some traction. My sense is that this election cycle is going to be an endorsement of the status quo in most races, and that’s going to be hard for Fairfield to overcome. Especially when her other big campaign issue, outside of Jaeger’s flubs, is opposition to a voter ID law that most North Dakotans in this red state probably aren’t that worked up over.

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Attorney General

Wayne Stenehjem isn’t going to lose this race. He last won re-election in 2010 with 74 percent of the vote. In 2006 he won with 68 pecent of the vote.

His opponent, Grand Forks attorney Kiara Kraus-Parr, has made a couple of feeble efforts to make North Dakota’s rising crime rates a problem for Stenehjem, but that’s not going to do the trick. I don’t think many North Dakotans are going to blame Stenehjem for our state’s population growth and shifting demographics.

And besides, Kraus-Parr has by far raised the least amount of money out of all the Democrats on a ticket that is already running at a heavy disadvantage to Republicans in a red state in an election year that in which Republicans have the advantage nationally.

Barring some calamitous campaign gaffe or scandal – both unlikely given Stenehjem’s reputation as a smooth and competent campaigner, Kraus-Parr can count on remaining in private practice next year.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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