I think North Dakota Democrats are a thoroughly marginalized political movement because they’ve moved themselves outside of the acceptable ideological window of most voters in the state.
In the Grand Forks Herald today Mike Jacobs takes exception with that thesis. “The easy answer is that ideology did in the Democrats. Conservative blogger Rob Port recently denounced this ideology as ‘a shrill leftward cant,'” he writes. “But the numbers tell a different story.”
Jacobs goes on to describe how Democrat presidential candidates routinely get more votes than top-of-the-ticket Democrat candidates for statewide office. “In six elections since 1992, the Democratic presidential candidate has won more votes in North Dakota than the party’s gubernatorial candidates,” he writes. “The exceptions are 2000, when Heitkamp was the candidate for governor, and 1992, when independent candidate Ross Perot took 23 percent of the vote for president.”
North Dakota Democrats can hardly be too liberal, Jacobs wants us to believe, when even Barack Obama is pulling in more votes than their top candidates. And it’s not a bad rebuttal, as far as it goes. But North Dakotans aren’t a very partisan people, contrary to popular belief. They’re more than happy to split their ticket among candidates from both parties if given cause to.
Consider that in 2008 John McCain won North Dakota with over 53 percent of the vote while Barack Obama got 44 percent of the vote. On that same ballot Governor John Hoeven got 74 percent of the vote while his opponent Tim Mathern got 23 percent.
There were only 929 more votes in the presidential race than there were in the gubernatorial race. Which means a lot of people cast their ballots for a Democrat president and a Republican governor. Jacobs says this is proof that Democrats aren’t too far left for voters.
I’d point out that Obama still lost the state by a wide margin, and that Tim Mathern was just an incompetent candidate even before we get to his political philosophy.
From there Jacobs accuses Republicans of “stacking the deck” to maintain the super majority status they won in the 1990’s. Which, frankly, sounds a bit like someone making excuses.
Republicans took advantage of their hegemony. They stacked the deck in their favor in two ways. The first was to lengthen the terms of House members to four years rather than two, with House and Senate members from the same district elected in the same election year.
The second was to divide the state offices between ballots, with some elected in the presidential year and others in the off year. Both of these moves protected incumbents.
These started as Republican initiatives, sure, but it’s worth remembering that they were approved by voters as all amendments to the state constitution must be. This was the will of the people, which makes this insinuation that these reforms were some sort of a Machiavellian plot by Republicans a little hard to buy.
And I’m not sure it’s as big a factor in more recent electoral outcomes as Jacobs would like to think. The problem isn’t the method by which we elected lawmakers and statewide officeholders. The problem is that Democrats have had poor candidates selling a message few in the state want or care about.
Jacobs blaming the structure of the electoral process makes me think about people who ask me how I made this blog so popular. What they’re expecting is that I tell them about some secret approach to social media or search engine optimization which draws in tens of thousands of readers. What I actually tell them is that you just have to consistently deliver content people actually want to read.
It’s not sexy. But it is the truth.
Content matters, whether we’re talking about blog posts or political campaigns. In recent cycles the Democrat message has been that Republicans are extremists, and that voters should elect Democrats because there are too many Republicans.
The voters aren’t buying it.