North Dakota Democrat Describes State Convention as a “Celebration of Incompetence”

Democratic Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

I had an interesting conversation last night with a Democratic insider – a former candidate for statewide office, as it happens – who is involved in party activities this election cycle.

My friend, who asked not to be named, is not optimistic about the party’s state convention this weekend, or its chances to make meaningful electoral gains in November.

“The Kennedy Center [the Democratic state headquarters] can’t figure out how to answer the phone for a delegate list to be given to candidates – and the sugarbeet folks are having a convention to the point candidates can’t post signs before hand,” my friend told me yesterday.

The Democrats are holding their event at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks (the same venue Republicans will be at a couple of weeks later), but also happening there is the 54th International Sugarbeet Institute, which will run through Saturday. Apparently causing some headaches for the liberal activists hoping to energize themselves for the upcoming election.

My friend also worried about the relatively early date for the convention which may hurt attendance. “Usually convention is in April,” they told me, adding that a lot of the party’s usual convention attendees “are in Arizona- snow birds.”

“Attendance will be hurt,” they continued, saying the event will be a “celebration of incompetence.”

I was also told that Democratic Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen’s decision to run for statewide office even as she remains party chair is a problem. Former NDGOP chairman Kelly Armstrong resigned that position when he announced his campaign for the U.S. House. “So the Dem is going to be chair and on the ballot at the same time,” my friend told me.

Being party chair during an election is a lot of work. So is campaigning for statewide office. I’m not sure that Democrats concerned about Oversen’s ability to do both jobs can derive a lot of confidence from the party leader’s social media activity:

Oversen’s party has had exactly one candidate win a statewide election in North Dakota in the last decade. In 2016, under Oversen’s leadership, the party saw not a single statewide candidate get more than 30 percent of the vote and saw its already tiny presence in the Legislature shrink dramatically. This cycle Democrats are continuing to struggle with candidate recruitment.

Maybe now isn’t the time to carry on as though you’re running for student body president.

“People are mad about Mac coming in,” my friend told me, referring to former Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider joining the U.S. House race. Schneider, who had denied he was running for anything as little as two weeks before announcing his campaign, told me during a radio interview earlier this month that he wasn’t urged into the race by Senator Heitkamp, but my source contradicted that.

“It is just some dirty pool,” I was told, with my source adding that Heitkamp is pitching Schneider as being more appealing to western North Dakotans because his legislative track record is “friendly to oil.”

That may come as a surprise to the oil industry who watched Schneider lead the Democratic rhetorical charge against oil tax reforms passed by lawmakers in 2015.

Anyway, I’d been told previously by people in Democratic circles that Hanson was something less than pleased about Schneider’s decision to run. He’d started his campaign because he thought Schneider wasn’t running.

My friend, claiming Heitkamp pushed Schneider into the race, alleges that it’s dividing the party: “Not only is Heidi Heitkamp not building the party she is encouraging a split.”

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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