Over the weekend the Associated Press had an interesting article about the crop of Democratic U.S. House candidates – former state lawmakers Mac Schneider and Ben Hanson, alongside current state Senator John Grabinger – who have emerged since incumbent Republican Kevin Cramer announced his candidacy for the Senate.
“North Dakota’s Democratic U.S. House hopefuls are taking a page from party star and U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s playbook by painting themselves as independent-minded politicians who will buck national party leaders if their policies veer too far from the state’s right-leaning electorate,” reads the lede in the AP article.
You really have to question how authentic all this is. After all, Heitkamp’s self-styled independence seems to be a product of electoral politics. As vote pattern data from Congressional Quarterly (paywall, unfortunately) shows us, Heitkamp voted with her fellow Democrats and President Barack Obama’s positions nearly all of the time for the first two years of her term.
It was only as she got closer to the end of her term that she began to move slowly to the center (CQ hasn’t published data for Heitkamp’s Trump-era voting patterns yet):
Those trend lines look very convenient, from a political perspective. Senate terms are a long six years. Voters are susceptible to recency bias.
Clearly, Heitkamp is aware of that. Thus, her voting record. She campaigned on “independence” in the 2012 election, and then spent the first two years of her term in office voting with her other Democrats and President Barack Obama’s agenda well over 90 percent of the time.
Which brings us to the 2018 election cycle. As we can see from the AP article, Democratic candidates in North Dakota are going to follow Heitkamp’s lead on feinting to the center for the election. But how believable is it?
The measure of the success of Democrats on the statewide ballot in North Dakota in 2018 – particularly the federal candidates – will hinge on how good they are with convincing voters they’ll cooperate with Republicans.
But why shouldn’t North Dakotans, instead of voting for Democrats who promise to govern like Republicans, just vote for actual Republicans?