North Dakota Republicans Cleaning Up Newspaper Endorsements, But Do They Matter?

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I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how much newspaper endorsements matter any more. Maybe they did once upon a time, but I think their value has diminished in this digital age where everyone with a blog, a Facebook page, or a Twitter account can make an endorsement.

In North Dakota, particularly, I feel like the newspapers endorse whom they think will win. It’s more about being right about the outcome than any feelings about policy. That’s what I think anyway.

Forum Communications – which owns most of the state’s major newspapers – has so far endorsed an all-Republicans late on the statewide ballot. Rep. Kevin Cramer was endorsed over Democrat challenger George Sinner yesterday. In a slate of endorsements published today, Republican incumbents Al Jaeger and Wayne Stenehjem have also been given the nod over Democrats for Secretary of State and Attorney General.

Even incumbent Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, who has been absent from the campaign trail while seeking treatment for alcoholism, was endorsed over Democrat challenger Jason Astrup.

Not endorsed on the statewide ticket so far are candidates for Public Service Commission – Republican incumbents Julie Fedorchak and Brian Kalk are facing Democrat challengers Tyler Axness and Todd Reisenauer – as well as the Agriculture Commission race.

I don’t think anyone believes Fedorchak and/or Kalk are going to lose their races, but that last pitting Republican incumbent Doug Goehring against Democrat Ryan Taylor, is perhaps the most important as it includes a seat on the all-powerful North Dakota Industrial Commission which, among other things, regulates oil and gas development in the state. Democrats are desperate for a soap box from which to speak on energy issues in the state – something on which they don’t seem to have a lot of credibility in the eyes of ND voters – and Taylor’s election would give them that.

Of course, Forum Communications isn’t infallible on these endorsements. In 2012 they endorsed Rick Berg over Heidi Heitkamp, no doubt convinced by their own polling showing Berg with a 10-point lead just weeks before election day, and ended up with egg on their face.

It will be interesting to see which way Forum Communications leans on the Ag Commission as it will be a strong indication of who they think is going to win. And in what is expected to be right race, it could just be enough to tip the scales one way or another.