North Dakota Democrats Will Have a Competition for a Party Endorsement for the First Time in a Long Time

State Sen. John Grabinger, D-Jamestown

The problem North Dakota’s Democrats have usually faced, in recent election cycles, is finding enough candidates to run for statewide office. While the NDGOP routinely enjoys the luxury of multiple candidates often competing for one race or another, the Democrats are often flirting with the embarrassment of being a major political party with no candidate for a statewide office at all.

Are Democrats feeling reinvigorated this cycle? Perhaps. News of a second candidate for U.S. House just broke today. State Senator John Grabinger of Jamestown has announced that he’ll be seeking the party’s endorsement for the U.S. House. He’ll join Ben Hanson, a former lawmaker who lost re-election to his West Fargo district in 2016, in the race.

I can’t remember the last time the Democrats had a truly competitive race at their convention. They haven’t had a nomination fight go all the way to the June ballot since before 2000 (I checked the election results with the Secretary of State this morning). If they’ve had a serious competition between two candidates at their state endorsing convention in the nearly 15 years I’ve been writing about North Dakota politics I’ve forgotten about it.

Suffice it to say that it’s been a while (it’s worth noting that firefighter Dustin Peyer has launched a long shot bid to wrest the party’s Senate nomination from incumbent Heidi Heitkamp). Meanwhile on the Republican side state Senator Kelly Armstrong, state Senator Tom Campbell, Marine veteran Tiffany Abentroth, and Minot residents DuWayne Hendrickson and Paul Schaffner are all in the House race.

Is this a shift for the Democrats? A friend of mine who is a major contributor to Democratic causes in the state says he’s noticed a change.

“There’s something happening with Dem candidates this year that’s a little different. On all levels, really,” he told me. “The last few cycles I’ve been one of higher individual donors to Dem candidates (when it’s all added up). That was usually just from calls from personal friends running for office. In the last 2 months I’ve never gotten so many calls from people I don’t know, running for leg races, asking for cash. That’s never happened.”

“Statewide [candidates] are calling to ask for a donation the same day as their announcement. It’s anecdotal, but in last years it was basically herding cats to get candidates to put effort into getting the resources they need,” he added.

Nationally we hear a lot about Democrats being energized after a year of Trump in office. Could that be trickling down to North Dakota? Or are North Dakota’s Democrats finally figuring out they need to do something more than smugly posting MSNCBC clips on social media to win elections here?

We’ll see. Neither Grabinger or Hanson strike me as particularly strong candidates, but it does appear as though the Democrats are at least going through the motions this cycle. And they’ve even got an opportunity to find some better leadership for the party now that past chairwoman Kylie Oversen is stepping down to seek election as Tax Commissioner.

UPDATE: A reader on Facebook reminds me that a decade ago the Democrats did have a competition for the gubernatorial endorsement:

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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