ND Republicans Have Legislative Fundraising Advantage, Dems Have Some Opportunities


Yesterday I took a look at the fundraising in North Dakota’s statewide campaigns and, not surprisingly, the Republicans have a substantial advantage though Democrats have an opportunity in at least one race (Agriculture Commissioner).

Today I took a look at the fundraising in the Legislative races and it’s pretty much the same story. Republicans have a massive advantage in fundraising, but Democrats have a few opportunities for some pickups. But then, so do Republicans.

Overall, Republicans running for seats in the Legislature have raised $505,083.39 according to what’s been reported on the Secretary of State’s campaign finance disclosure database as of this evening. Republicans running for the House have raised $265,170.17, and those running for the Senate have raised $239,913.22.

That’s significantly more than Democrat legislative candidates who have raised $275,732.12, including $137,232.36 for House candidates and $138,499.76 for Senate candidates (you can see all my numbers and check my math in the spreadsheet below).


There was no way Democrats were going to take control of either House of the Legislature this year. Even if they won every single race in both the House and the Senate for which they a) don’t already control and b) have a candidate for, they still wouldn’t have a majority in either house. Given this massive fundraising advantage, the fact that Republicans are fielding 49 incumbents to the Democrats’ 10, and that Democrats left no fewer than 15 races without a candidate (18 now that three phony-baloney candidates in western North Dakota have cut and run) it’s safe to say that this isn’t going to be a good year for our liberal friends.

That being said, they have some opportunities for some pickups in a few races according to these fundraising numbers, though that’s probably offset by some opportunities Republicans have themselves.

I expect this election cycle to be a bit of a wash. The Republican majority, as a practical matter, probably can’t get any bigger and Democrats can’t seem to find any widespread traction.

Looking at the numbers, and using Minnesota State Community and Technical College Political Science Professor Mark Johnson’s analysis of partisan intensity in the various legislative districts (it calculates the partisan advantage in each district based on how voters their cast their ballots), here’s my selection of legislative races to watch, in order of how interesting they are.

Before we begin, please keep in mind that fundraising isn’t everything. Candidates who don’t raise as much as their opponents win very often. But usually fundraising, especially at the legislative level, is a good indication of which candidates have a shot.


District 21

This is a very left-wing district in downtown Fargo. The partisan intensity is a +15.93 for the Democrats, making it the second most liberal district in the state. On the ballot there are two Democrat incumbents – Senator Carolyn Helson and Rep. Kathy Hogan – who are joined by newcomer Mary Schneider who is seeking to replace former Rep. Steve Zaiser who is stepping down.

Can Republicans really expect to pick it up?

Well, the fundraising looks good. Senate candidate Cindy Pfeifer, along with House candidates Robbie Lauf and Lucas Paper, are raised nearly $20,000, significantly more than the just over $14,000 Democrats have raised.

Maybe Democrats don’t feel they need to put a lot of money into what is normally a very safe district for them. But then, that’s how upsets happen.

District 43

This is a fairly solid Democrat district in the center of Grand Forks, but it currently has mixed representation in Bismarck. Senator Lonnie Laffen, a Republican, is running for re-election, but current Republican Rep. Curtiss Kruen is not. Seeking to replace him is Shelby Wood, and also on the Republican ticket for the House is Richard Becker.

The House candidates are hoping to defeat incumbent Lois Delmore as well as newcomer Kyle Thorson. Laffen is running against JoNell Bakke in the Senate.

Why do Republicans have a shot here? For one, despite it being a Democrat-leaning district, voters there have already been casting their ballots for Republican candidates one of whom is on the ballot again. And also, Republicans have a big fundraising advantage.

Laffen, Wood, and Becker have combined to raise $51,850.00, the second most of any Republican legislative team in the state. That’s roughly twice the $26,200.00 Democrats have raised so far. That would seem to give them an advantage, but enough not only keep Kruen’s seat but also unseat Delmore who has served in the Legislature since 1995?

In mixed districts like these, it is anyone’s guess.

District 45

District 45 includes the north part of Fargo – covering the NDSU campus – as well as some rural areas outside of Fargo. Currently its representation is mixed. The Senator is a Republican – Ron Sorvaag – while the House members are split. Democrat Ed Gruchalla is running for re-election, but Republican Joe Heilman isn’t.

Joining Sorvaag on the Republican ticket are Tom Kading and Mary Johnson. Gruchalla is joined by Senate candidate Mike Deutsch and House candidate Brenda Warren.

Why is this an opportunity for Republicans? It’s a left-leaning district, +2.48 for Democrats, but Republicans have a major fundraising advantage.

They’ve put up $19,274.70, more than twice the $8,250.00 raised by Democrats.


District 35

Currently District 35, an urban district in Bismarck, is held by Republican incumbents. But there is an ocean of campaign cash pouring into this race. Democrat Senate candidate Erin Hill-Oban has raised nearly $65,000 for her race alone, not counting the $22,000 raised by her House running mates Tracy Potter and Darrell Miller (in North Dakota House and Senate candidates are elected to concurrent four-year terms, and they tend to run in teams). Hill-Oban’s fundraising alone represents 45 percent of what all Democrat state Senate candidates have raised.

In fact, Hill-Oban has so far raised more than four of the Democrats’ six statewide candidates.

Why is this race attracting such a huge amount of money? Hill-Oban is running against state Senator Margaret Sitte, an outspoken social conservative who has been extremely visible on issues like abortion and gay marriage. But Sitte isn’t sitting still. She’s raised a whopping $46,278.52 herself, in addition to the $19,000 her House running mates – Rep. Bob Martinson and Rep. Karen Karls – have put up.

Still, the Democrats have a clear fundraising advantage in this district, though it leans to the right with a Republican +1.97 voter intensity, which is probably why Oban is claiming to have a lot of support from Republcians.

Democrats are clearly focused on Sitte, so it’s hard to say what impact that race will have on Karls and Martinson. If Sitte can’t pull it out, this may end up being a mixed district for the 2015 session.

District 41

District 41, a urban district in Fargo, has some important races for Republicans. For one thing, it is House Majority Leader Al Carlson’s home district. For another, Rep. Bette Grande – another outspoken social conservative who has drawn the attention of Demcorats, is also from that district. And Carlson/Grande are supporting a newbie in the state Senate race. Kyle Davison is on the ballot for the first time, hoping to take the place of long-time state Senator Tony Grindberg who announced his retirement from the Legislature earlier this year.

Democrats have put up an all-female slate of candidates – Evelyn Quigley for Senate, Pamela Anderson and Sheila Christenson for House – and are campaigning against Grande’s pro-life record. So far they’ve made the money race tight. The Democrat challengers have raised just over $30,000 while the Republican incumbents have raised just over $34,000.

The Republican ticket have the advantage of incumbency, and a district that leans slightly to the right (+0.26 for Republicans), but I doubt any Republicans in the state are satisfied seeing their House leader in a race this close in terms of funding. And I’ve heard rumblings of some polling for Grande and Carlson that, while not showing them underwater to the Democrats, shows them closer than many expected.

Nobody has shown me the specific poll, but I think it’s a safe bet to say that this one is going to be a squeaker.

District 25

Currently District 25 is a mixed district. Larry Luick is a Republican currently serving as Senator. Clark Williams, a Democrat, is one of the two Representatives. The other is Margaret Wall, who was appointed to finish her husband John Wall’s term in office after he passed away.

Neither Wall nor Williams are on the ballot this cycle. Luick is joined on the ballot this cycle by fellow Republicans Cindy Beck and Bruce Eckre (who was a Demcorat, once upon a time). They’re facing Democrats Perry Miller, who is running for the Senate, Richard Grosz and Alisa Mitskog.

The Democrats have a decided advantage in fundraising. They’ve raised nearly $17,000 while the Republican ticket has raised only $8,200. In fact, neither Beck nor Eckre have reported any fundraising at all.

This is a left-leaning district – +2.73 for Democrats – and it seems likely the liberals will pick up at least one seat there.

District 29

Currently District 29, a mostly rural district near Jamestown, is a Republican district held by incumbent Senator Terry Wanzek and incumbent Representatives Craig Headland and Chet Pollert. The district leans to the right, with a Republican +1.97 partisan intensity, and the incumbents are all long-time lawmakers who have served for at least a decade.

But the fundraising is closer than I expected. The Democrat candidates – Jeff Piehl for Senate, Lori Carlson and Jeff Linderman for the House – have raised over $13,000 to the Republican incumbent’s $16,600.

Incumbency, and the district’s Republican advantage, probably means Democrats won’t pick this up. Still, in a year with a lot of lop-sided fundraising total, anything close sticks out.


2014 Legislative Fundraising by Rob Port