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McFeely: Challenge for ND Democrats isn't making gains, it's holding on for dear life

FARGO--North Dakota Republicans and their media toadies take great pleasure in pointing out the trainwreck that is the Democratic-NPL Party, as if this is some sort of hot take on the daily news. It is not. Trumpeting the pickle in which North Da...

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Mike McFeely
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FARGO-North Dakota Republicans and their media toadies take great pleasure in pointing out the trainwreck that is the Democratic-NPL Party, as if this is some sort of hot take on the daily news. It is not. Trumpeting the pickle in which North Dakota Democrats find themselves should be filed under the heading of, "No poo poo, Sherlock." Perhaps the first clue Democrats were in trouble in the 2016 election was when they were privately conceding months ago they weren't going to run a candidate against ultra-popular U.S. Sen. John Hoeven. Perhaps the second clue was when it became apparent they might not run anybody against one of the more vulnerable candidates among North Dakota Republicans, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer. Perhaps the third clue was when the Dems' only interested person in running for the open governor's seat, Sarah Vogel, dropped out. A corollary to the third clue would be that Vogel's decision apparently caught most in the party by surprise, which caused me to recall to the classic Will Rogers line: "I am not a member of an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." We could go on, but there's no need. The Democrats will get trounced on the statewide ballot in North Dakota in November and Republicans will light their stogies and brag about their winning policies, such as falsifying licenses for negligent daycare providers who run businesses where children die. Allegedly, of course. The more important challenge for Democrats might be how to hold on to what little they have. It is the season of re-election announcements and district conventions and the handful of impressive young Democrats who have legislative seats-like Tyler Axness, Josh Boschee, Mac Schneider, Kylie Oversen, Corey Mock and Ben Hanson-are getting ready for a battle. Ten of the 15 Senate seats held by Democrats are in play. And with little or nothing at the top of the statewide ticket to draw voters to the polls-although it helps this is a presidential election year-Democrats are nervous about holding on to what they have. This nervousness might extend to 2018, as well. Yes, yes, I know what you're saying. Can we get through the next eight months of never-ending, nauseating campaign ads before we start talking politics still two years away? Well, no, because the deterioration of the Dem-NPL Party today might have an impact on what happens in 2018. At least that's what my Republican friends are banking on. Imagine if you're U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, winner of her race by fewer than 3,000 votes (less than 1 percent of the nearly 320,000 votes cast) in 2012, and you see your state party cratering to the point it literally isn't competing on the statewide ballot. Other than in places like Fargo and perhaps Grand Forks, you know there is little enthusiasm for left-leaning candidates. And you know 2018 is not a presidential year, when Democratic election turnout is better.
How you feeling for 2018? Granted, Heitkamp is not your normal North Dakota Democrat. First off, she had to overcome being related to her brother. That could not have been easy. Aside from that, polls show her favorability rating high across the state. She is generally well-liked, despite North Dakota's deep redness. Her approach to being a U.S. senator from North Dakota has been nothing short of genius. Heitkamp has tried to distance herself as far as possible from President Obama, becoming anti-gun control and anti-Environmental Protection Agency to the max. She's actually angered more far-left liberals than far-right conservatives, which takes a special kind of political skill for a Democrat. She will be a strong candidate, regardless of who the Republicans run against her. As former Grand Forks Herald Editor Mike Jacobs correctly wrote in a recent column, Heitkamp was a stronger candidate than her opponent in 2012 and she won-regardless of ideology. Will the Republicans field somebody in 2018 more robust than Rick Berg? It won't be hard to do that. Getting back to Washington, D.C., might be tougher for Heitkamp than getting there the first time, if that's possible for somebody who won an election by less than 1 percent. It won't be made any easier by the continued melting away of whatever's left of the Democratic-NPL. That's the story for this election cycle for North Dakota Democrats. Can they hang on for dear life and remain solvent enough to give themselves any sort of short-term future, which rests solely on the future of Sen. Heitkamp?FARGO-North Dakota Republicans and their media toadies take great pleasure in pointing out the trainwreck that is the Democratic-NPL Party, as if this is some sort of hot take on the daily news. It is not. Trumpeting the pickle in which North Dakota Democrats find themselves should be filed under the heading of, "No poo poo, Sherlock."Perhaps the first clue Democrats were in trouble in the 2016 election was when they were privately conceding months ago they weren't going to run a candidate against ultra-popular U.S. Sen. John Hoeven.Perhaps the second clue was when it became apparent they might not run anybody against one of the more vulnerable candidates among North Dakota Republicans, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer.Perhaps the third clue was when the Dems' only interested person in running for the open governor's seat, Sarah Vogel, dropped out. A corollary to the third clue would be that Vogel's decision apparently caught most in the party by surprise, which caused me to recall to the classic Will Rogers line: "I am not a member of an organized political party. I'm a Democrat."We could go on, but there's no need. The Democrats will get trounced on the statewide ballot in North Dakota in November and Republicans will light their stogies and brag about their winning policies, such as falsifying licenses for negligent daycare providers who run businesses where children die. Allegedly, of course.The more important challenge for Democrats might be how to hold on to what little they have. It is the season of re-election announcements and district conventions and the handful of impressive young Democrats who have legislative seats-like Tyler Axness, Josh Boschee, Mac Schneider, Kylie Oversen, Corey Mock and Ben Hanson-are getting ready for a battle. Ten of the 15 Senate seats held by Democrats are in play. And with little or nothing at the top of the statewide ticket to draw voters to the polls-although it helps this is a presidential election year-Democrats are nervous about holding on to what they have.This nervousness might extend to 2018, as well.Yes, yes, I know what you're saying. Can we get through the next eight months of never-ending, nauseating campaign ads before we start talking politics still two years away?Well, no, because the deterioration of the Dem-NPL Party today might have an impact on what happens in 2018. At least that's what my Republican friends are banking on.Imagine if you're U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, winner of her race by fewer than 3,000 votes (less than 1 percent of the nearly 320,000 votes cast) in 2012, and you see your state party cratering to the point it literally isn't competing on the statewide ballot. Other than in places like Fargo and perhaps Grand Forks, you know there is little enthusiasm for left-leaning candidates. And you know 2018 is not a presidential year, when Democratic election turnout is better.
How you feeling for 2018?Granted, Heitkamp is not your normal North Dakota Democrat. First off, she had to overcome being related to her brother. That could not have been easy. Aside from that, polls show her favorability rating high across the state. She is generally well-liked, despite North Dakota's deep redness.Her approach to being a U.S. senator from North Dakota has been nothing short of genius. Heitkamp has tried to distance herself as far as possible from President Obama, becoming anti-gun control and anti-Environmental Protection Agency to the max. She's actually angered more far-left liberals than far-right conservatives, which takes a special kind of political skill for a Democrat.She will be a strong candidate, regardless of who the Republicans run against her. As former Grand Forks Herald Editor Mike Jacobs correctly wrote in a recent column, Heitkamp was a stronger candidate than her opponent in 2012 and she won-regardless of ideology. Will the Republicans field somebody in 2018 more robust than Rick Berg? It won't be hard to do that.Getting back to Washington, D.C., might be tougher for Heitkamp than getting there the first time, if that's possible for somebody who won an election by less than 1 percent. It won't be made any easier by the continued melting away of whatever's left of the Democratic-NPL.That's the story for this election cycle for North Dakota Democrats. Can they hang on for dear life and remain solvent enough to give themselves any sort of short-term future, which rests solely on the future of Sen. Heitkamp?

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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