Some North Dakota Progressives Considering Forming a Third Party

Sen.-elect Heidi Heitkamp greets supporters during a victory rally Nov. 8, 2012, at the Teamsters Lounge in Fargo. File photo by Carrie Snyder / The Forum North Dakota

The Minot Daily News has an interesting article about a couple of dozen Minot-area progressives coming together to figure out how to be relevant in modern North Dakota politics.

Part of the motivation for the meeting is a feeling that local Democrats have given up the fight.

“My personal feeling on it is there’s just a lack of organizational effort on the part of Democrats locally,” Nicholas Trumbauer, one of the organizers, told the paper.

Trumbauer said he and his fellow progressives are trying to figure out whether to form a third party or focus on helping the Democratic-NPL.

I imagine Minot area Republicans are hoping a progressive third party forms. Such an entity would serve to siphon off votes from the Democrats’ already diminished base of support. The result would be more and larger victories for Republican candidates.

I’m doubtful that will come to pass. I suspect these progressives will maintain their partisan loyalties.

The problem isn’t organization. The problem is the message.

But it is interesting to hear what they think is the reason Democrats can’t win elections in our state. They blame disorganization in the party, but I don’t think that’s true.

In my experience the Democrats are always every bit as well organized as North Dakota Republicans. Often more so. The state party, for instance, routinely employs more staffers at any given time than the NDGOP.

These are smart, talented, energetic people who do a good job – again, often a better job than the NDGOP- of organizing their party and communicating its agenda.

The problem isn’t organization. The problem is the message.

Today’s North Dakotans, for the most part, aren’t progressives. They’re more comfortable affiliating with our state’s relatively moderate Republican party.

The NDGOP promotes a message that is generally about small government and minimal tax burdens. Since that’s what most North Dakotans want from their state government they vote for Republicans.

And Democrats can’t capitalize when Republicans fail to deliver on smaller government and lower/controlled tax burdens because they’re perceived as the party of big, intrusive government. Which they kind of are. Their national party has moved very far to the left. “[T]he Democratic Party over the past five or six years has moved very far to the left,” former U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, a Democrat himself, said recently.

He’s right, and that’s been devastating for Democrats in states like North Dakota.

The problem for North Dakota progressives is that this is a center-right state, and the NDGOP is occupying the center-right position. Challenges from the left aren’t likely to inspire anyone who isn’t already voting for Democrats, and challenges from the right aren’t something progressives are going to be interested in anyway.

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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