North Dakota Democrats Say They're Focused On The Legislature, But The Evidence Is Wanting


It's cold outside but debate is starting to heat up on agricultural issues in the region's state capitols, including at Bismarck, N.D. Photo taken Jan. 9, 2015, in Bismarck, N.D., at the North Dakota State Capitol. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)(Embargo to Jan. 20, 2015, 1 a.m.)

The difficulties North Dakota Democrats have been through trying to find warm bodies to run for statewide races isn’t exactly news at this point – though I did break the news about a Democrat running for governor yesterday – but one excuse they’ve offered for those struggles is that they’re focusing on legislative races.

“Party leadership for several months has said their path to rebuilding their bench starts with the Legislature,” the Bismarck Tribune reported earlier this month. “North Dakota Dem-NPL Party Executive Director Robert Haider said candidate recruitment continues, with the focus being on strong candidates dedicated to running highly competitive races.”

If Democrats are focused on the Legislature, however, it’s difficult to discern based on candidate filings so far.

In the 2016 election cycle North Dakota’s even-numbered legislative districts are on the ballot. There are 23 districts in play, with one Senator and two Representatives to be elected from each one.

As of today, Republicans have 10 candidates for 23 Senate races. Democrats have four.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]…how do you get people in districts across the state to show up and vote for your legislative candidates when you don’t have any excitement for statewide candidates?[/mks_pullquote]

On the House side, Republicans have 22 candidates filed for 46 races. Democrats have eight. The Libertarians, interestingly since they normally don’t run legislative races, have one. Libertarian House candidate Jack Seaman told me last month that his party expects to have a “half dozen” or so candidates for the Legislature.

As for the R’s and D’s, geographically speaking the Democrats are once again short of candidates in western North Dakota. They have just two candidates west of Jamestown, and that’s Karen Ehrens and Tiffany Hodge who are running for the House and Senate, respectively, in Bismarck’s District 32.

For multiple campaign cycles now Democrats have been carping about Republican governance of the energy industry. Yet in oil country, and coal country, the Democrats struggle to find candidates.

And I’m not convinced that this “let’s focus on the Legislature” strategy Democrats are pushing is going to work. I mean, it sounds good. You get some of your candidates in the Legislature, and then groom them for statewide races, except how do you get people in districts across the state to show up and vote for your legislative candidates when you don’t have any excitement for statewide candidates?

If Democrats are banking on voters turning out for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton to give them wins in the Legislature, I think they’re going to be disappointed.

There are certainly more candidates who have announced a 2016 campaign than have filed with the Secretary of State’s office, but last year it was really difficult to track all the rumors and news reports about candidates running or not running, and often we ran into bad information, so this cycle I’m sticking to who has actually filed officially to run.

Here’s the spreadsheet with all the candidates as of this morning. I’ll update periodically as more candidates file.

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