I didn’t like Doug Burgum’s primary campaign. I’m pretty sure I’ve made that crystal clear by now.
I thought it was phony and shallow, and I’m not alone in feeling that way. Nearly every Burgum supporter I’ve spoken to has acknowledged, off the record, that the campaign was pretty rough at times. Former Governor Ed Schafer, whose endorsement was a major factor in Burgum’s landslide victory over Wayne Stenehjem earlier this week, used the word “awful” to describe the campaign, though he also said that it improved.
But the one redeeming virtue of the campaign is that it worked better than anyone expected, including the Burgum campaign itself I think. The stuff about the “good old boys club”, though too cute by half for those of us familiar with Burgum’s role in funding the campaigns of the members of that supposed club, tapped into something visceral for a lot of voters in the state.
Some of that has to do with the anti-establishment, populist bonfire Donald Trump has set at the national level. But a lot of it is also a product of frustration among North Dakotans with Republicans who have become too insular. Too spend-happy. And a bit too preoccupied with social issues.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]The stuff about the “good old boys club”, though too cute by half for those of us familiar with Burgum’s role in funding the campaigns of the members of that supposed club, tapped into something visceral for a lot of voters in the state.[/mks_pullquote]
Burgum successfully made himself the avatar for the public’s collective anger over those things, inspiring voters to overlook some of the inconsistencies and hypocrisies that might have tripped up a candidate running in a different political atmosphere, and now he’s going to be our next governor. All due respect to Marvin Nelson, who is a smart guy and a gentleman legislator, but in this general election he’ll representing a liberal Democratic platform with little appeal to most voters in this state.
I’ve probably been Burgum’s most consistent critic during this election cycle. Part of that was, again, my disdain for the tone and style of his campaign. Populism, to me, kind of looks like governance by the mob.
Part of it was also my desire to make a political newcomer run the gauntlet. Stenehjem has been in public service in North Dakota for decades. His record is familiar. Burgum is a blank slate. I felt he needed to prove something.
One mistake many have made is to assume that my criticism of Burgum came from some personal animosity for the guy. That’s not true. I first met him when he invited me to his offices during a visit to Fargo last year to discuss the possibility of the campaign he eventually launched. He wanted my opinion on it – I told him beating Stenehjem would be difficult but not impossible – and during our discussion I found I liked the guy on a personal level.
We’ve had a few conversations since then, some of them lengthy, and I still like the guy. I was prepared to like his campaign too – I wrote early on that I was happy he was running – but, alas, that wasn’t to be.
Anyway, I feel it’s time I pressed the reset button. Burgum is already signaling a shift in tone now that the primary campaign is over. That’s a good thing. Lawmakers tell me his campaign is beginning its outreach to them, and that’s a good thing too.
I’m going to start giving Burgum the benefit of the doubt. The people have spoken, and they like the cut of his jib. I’ll try a little harder to see what they see.
I’ll never fail to be critical of a politician when I feel they deserve it – the day I start down that path is the day I give up writing about politics – but I am going to stop looking at Burgum through the lens of that phony-baloney primary campaign and see if there’s something to this guy I’m missing.