I first got actively involved with North Dakota Democrats after the 2002 elections. On election night that year, I decided I was tired of watching the Republicans be re-elected election after election without any noticeable competition. While I had always paid attention to politics, and I had always voted, I really left the selection of candidates up to people who I thought were more qualified than I.
I did not know what to do or how go about doing this. Like many people in my generation, I went to Google and looked up the contact information for the state Dem-NPL party and my local district. Not knowing how best to get involved, I just emailed them a little bit about myself, told them that I wanted to work to help Democrats get elected and that I wanted to help them in any way they saw fit. I quickly let them know that I would love to get together for a cup of coffee to find out what I could do.
Over time I did just that, I eventually began to become active in both my local party, in many state party activities, and was able to work on a couple of statewide campaigns. I slowly became very familiar with the inside of the party and began to understand why we were losing so many elections.
First off, it became obvious that the party was not able to recover from the end of “Team North Dakota”. The amazing run that was Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, and Earl Pomeroy allowed the Dem-NPL victories and relevancy even as they continued to grow less and less relevant in the state. Over time, the resources needed to protect “Team North Dakota” led to a deterioration of the infrastructure needed to compete in undercard races.
This inability to provide needed infrastructure to undercard candidates led to increased problems in candidate recruitment. Finding anybody to run was very difficult, and those who did run often told me that they received little or no support from the state party.
[Tweet “”[W}e do not have another Heitkamp waiting on the bench (sorry Joel)””]
Poorly ran campaigns led to bad fundraising, and bad fundraising led to a lack of message, and lack of message led to poor election results. The party continued to become less and less relevant.
Then we had the miracle that was Heidi Heitkamp in 2012. For years, Heitkamp was the great hope of the party. Many of us felt that Heitkamp would have been Governor in 2000 if not for a breast cancer scare. As she recovered full health, we waited and waited for her to run for office. When she did finally run, she was able to defeat a very week Rep. Rick Berg. However, to state the obvious, we do not have another Heitkamp waiting on the bench (sorry Joel).
Since that point, the party has really seemed to be rudderless. Now, as district conventions are happening, we are seeing just how bad things are. At this point, we have only two declared candidates for statewide office.
Perhaps most embarrassing is the fact that they don’t even have a candidate to put up against US Rep. Kevin Cramer. The fact that the party cannot find a solid candidate to run against a first term Congressman, who has lost two statewide elections, and is part of the majority party in the most unpopular congress in history is unacceptable.
But that is the state of the North Dakota Dem-NPL now. That can only change if people who want to see the party change step up and challenge it from within. In short, it is a time for new leadership.