The race for Tax Commissioner is without a doubt the hardest to handicap this election season.
At the beginning of the election cycle this race seemed like a near certainty for Republicans. Their candidate is incumbent Ryan Rauschenberger, who was appointed to his position by Governor Jack Dalrymple replacing former Tax Commissioner Cory Fong who took a job in the private sector. Before that, Rauschenberger had spent four years as the Deputy Tax Commissioner. He is widely seen as a competent, well-spoken candidate with strong political connections and a deep campaign war chest.
Democrats, on the other hand, nominated Jason Astrup. He’s a tax attorney in the Fargo area not well known before his candidacy even among Democrat political circles.
But then news broke here on SayAnythingBlog.com about Rauschenberger’s struggles with alcohol, and suddenly I think Democrats found themselves wishing they had a do-over with their nomination for this race. While the deadline had passed for replacing Rauschenberger on the statewide ballot by the time his issues with alcohol came to light, it had also passed for replacing Astrup.
The reason why Democrats might have wanted to go another way is clear in the polling. Despite the Republicans’ struggles – he spent roughly a month off the campaign trail in rehab – Astrup can’t seem to build any momentum. His campaign has raised less than $40,000 to date, including a paltry $3,500 in 48-hour contributions since late September.
It doesn’t seem as though Democrats see much of an opportunity in this race. They certainly aren’t investing campaign cash in it.
Here’s what our polling shows. The SAB/Valley News Live poll was conducted by DFM Research out of Minnesota. It polled 430 “certain” or “very likely” voters between October 13 and October 16 with a margin of error of +/- 4.7 percent.
Our polling shows Rauschenberger with lead over Astrup, but both candidates are still under 40 percent for support. Rauschenberger was supported by 37 percent of poll respondents, while Astrup was supported by 31 percent.
That seeming dissatisfaction with both candidates hasn’t translated into support for the third-party candidate on the ballot. Libertarian Anthony Mangnall enjoyed support from just 5 percent of respondents. A total of 21 percent of respondents said they were undecided in this race.
Raushcenberger enjoyed a lead over Astrup among men, while the two candidates were essentially tied among women.
Rauschenberger also enjoyed a lead over Astrup among younger voters, though the two candidates were again basically tied among voters over the age of 40.
Astrup had the lead, as most Democrats in our poll have, among voters with an education level of a high school diploma or less. Rauschenberger had relatively strong leads among voters with at least some college.
The geographic breakdowns give us the only area of majority support for one of the candidates (outside of the partisan breakdowns). Rauschenberger got support of 53 percent of respondents from the rural western areas of the state, and also enjoys a plurality lead over Astrup in the state’s central rural areas.
The eastern rural areas, which are pretty reliably Democrat in our polling, gave Astrup his largest lead over Rauschenberger. The two are essentially tied in the state’s urban areas.
Astrup has the advantage over Rauschenberger among independents, but there seems to be a lot of uncertainty about both candidates among Republicans and Democrats.
Rauschenberger enjoyed support from 72 percent of Republicans, while Astrup got 74 percent of Democrats. Both figures are low compared to other candidates from their parties.
Put simply, the headline of this race is uncertainty.