The Dakotas Are An Unfriendly Place For Democrats

dakotas democrats

This Roll Call piece from yesterday about South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune’s re-election bid will sound awfully familiar to Republicans in North Dakota.

Thune, you might remember, made national headlines when he unseated Democrat Tom Daschle, then the Senate Minority Leader, in 2004. In 2010 he went on to re-election without facing an opponent. And, so far in 2016, he’s still not facing an opponent.

Though Democrats are making noises about finding someone – anyone – to run. “Zach Nistler, who is campaign manager for South Dakota State House Rep. Paula Hawks’ Congressional campaign, said he’s optimistic his party will find a candidate,” Roll Call reports.

It’s February, and North Dakota Democrats have not a single statewide candidate in the race. And I bet that if you asked a rank-and-file member of the party in the state about who might run for any of those seats they’d be hard pressed to even give you a name.

That sounds suspiciously like the brave face state Rep. Kyle Oversen, chairwoman of the Democrat party in the state, put on the gubernatorial race recently. After collecting north of $57,000 in contributions for a campaign everyone, including Democrats, thought was a go former Agriculture Commissioner Sarah Vogel decided not to run.

“I would certainly not say that we’ve given up hope,” Oversen told reporter Mike Nowatzki in response to the news. “We will stand behind and fully support our candidate when that time comes.”

Oversen might have been more accurate if she used the word “if” instead of “when” in that sentence.

And really, North Dakota Democrats are in worse shape than their counterparts in South Dakota. At least the South Dakota Democrats have a U.S. House candidate.

In North Dakota, as I write this, the Democrats have no candidates at all for the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, the gubernatorial race, the state auditor race, the insurance commissioner race, the treasurer race, or the Public Service Commission race.

It’s February, and North Dakota Democrats have not a single statewide candidate in the race. And I bet that if you asked a rank-and-file member of the party in the state about who might run for any of those seats they’d be hard pressed to even give you a name.

Meanwhile, Republicans have incumbents running for the House, Senate, treasurer and PSC races, as well as three challengers for governor, two for auditor, and one for the insurance commissioner.

“We’re going to rebuild,” Bob Valeu, then chairman of the party, told Mike Nowatzki after Democrats took a shellacking in the 2014 elections. Then he and executive director Chad Oban went on to say that the party has a strong bench of candidates.

“Valeu and Oban said Democrats still have a strong bench of potential candidates, mentioning the names of Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider of Grand Forks and former state representative Jasper Schneider, as well as some candidates who ran unsuccessfully Tuesday, including Astrup, state Sen. Tyler Axness and Todd Reisenauer, all from the Fargo area,” Nowatzki.

Well, where are these candidates?

What’s notable is that the Dakotas haven’t always been such a Republican stronghold. Not so long ago both states had Democrats elected to U.S. Congress. But in recent years the Dakotas have seen a marked shift to the right.

As I wrote yesterday, North Dakota is the 4th most Republican state in the nation according to a Gallup poll. South Dakota came in 7th.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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