Rep. Al Carlson, a long-time state lawmaker and current Majority Leader in the North Dakota House of Representatives, is fighting for his political life in Fargo’s District 41.
That district has been trending blue for a while now, and Carlson is hardly safe. Carlson, an incumbent, is running alongside newcomer and fellow Republican Michelle Strinden in that race. Their challengers are Democrats Pamela Anderson, also an incumbent, and newcomer Brandon Medenwald.
Back in June I flagged District 41 as a battleground based on the results of primary voting. Looking at the vote totals, it’s worth noting that Carlson came in fourth place among the four candidates.
Democrats already have momentum against Carlson, and they may be deploying some strategic voting as well. A source in Democratic circles tells me some in the district, on the understanding that the district probably isn’t blue enough yet to elect two Democrats, the plan for left-of-center voters is to cast ballots for Anderson and Strinden to push Carlson down the list.
Of course, there are rumors of those sort of strategic voting plots every cycle, so who knows if that sort of a strategy could be effective. Regardless, suffice it to say that Carlson’s re-election is very much in doubt.
Which, if Carlson loses, would create something of a power vacuum in the Legislature. A vacuum four Republicans I’ve spoken to – people whose names have been circulating in political circles as replacements for Carlson – are on the record saying they’d like to fill.
“The big unknown of course is that race,” state Rep. Dan Ruby of Minot told me. “He did pull 4th in the primary, but that was the primary.”
“People have asked me for four years if it’s something I want to do,” he continued when asked about the Majority Leader position. “I don’t think anyone is going to be able to challenge Carlson necessarily, but if he’s not in the game it’s something I’m going to strongly consider. One thing I didn’t want to do is give any indication there’s a challenge to Al so his opponents can use it. He’s been an asset to Fargo. It’d be stupid to get rid of him.”
Chet Pollert of Carrington echoed Ruby’s praise of Carlson. “I would like to say nothing. If [the District 41 race] goes like I hope it does I will be supporting Majority Leader Al Carlson. As far as I’m concerned right now, do I have an interest in the majority leader, sure do. But I would never run against Al Carlson.”
Rep. Mike Nathe of Bismarck also told me he has no interest in challenging Carlson, but will run for Majority Leader if Carlson loses. “Al Carlson is a friend of mine. He’s been very to me. If Al wins I have no interest in running against Al at all. God forbid if Al should lose, I will put my name in the hat,” Nathe said.
Rep. Rick Becker, also of Bismarck, said Carlson’s re-election may not matter to him at all.
“I’m open to it. I’ve looked at it. We’ll see what happens,” he told me. “I just want to do whatever I can for the Republican platform.”
“If I think the best way to further that cause is to be majority leader I will run. A lot of what determines that is who else is running. I’m in a bit of flux. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know whether Al wins or loses that my view on it is any different,” he added.
I asked him if that meant he would challenge Carlson even if he wins in District 41.
“Well, yeah, I’m open to that possibility,” Becker said. “I like Al but I think it’s always good to look at whether we want to automatically go with what we’ve had. I think when elections are held and there’s competition it’s always a good thing.”