MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota Democrats haven’t had a majority in the state Senate since 1995, or a majority in the state House since 1985.
The last Democrat not named Heidi Heitkamp to win an election on the statewide ballot was former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who last won re-election more than a decade ago in 2008.
Their prospects for emerging from that wilderness in 2020 seem grim thanks to Gov. Doug Burgum.
Why him, specifically?
In the 2016 primary he drew Democrats to the Republican ticket in a big way.
In North Dakota the political parties select choose their candidates for the November general election in a statewide vote which happens in June. When you go to the polls you must choose whether to vote on the Republican slate of candidates or the Democratic slate.
Not surprisingly, given North Dakota’s partisan proclivities, the Republican ticket gets more votes than the Democrat ticket. The 2016 primary, though, was something special.
The ratio of Republican to Democrat voters was nearly 6 - 1.
Burgum drew in Democrats, and not just in the primary.
He went on to win the 2016 general election with over 76 percent of the vote. Republicans also swept every single statewide election by wide margins, and decimated Democrats in the legislative races with 18 of their incumbent candidates losing their House and Senate seats.
North Dakota is a red state, sure, but that sort of electoral bloodbath doesn’t happen without Republicans peeling off a lot of Democratic voters.
A process which probably started with Burgum luring Democrats into voting in that June primary.
Will the phenomena repeat itself? Burgum is an incumbent now, which means he has a policy track record. What’s more, it’s a largely conservative track record. You could fairly assume that governing conservatively would turn off some of the Democrats who crossed over to support Burgum in 2016.
A couple of recent polls suggest that Burgum’s bipartisan appeal lingers.
DFM Research is a firm which has worked for both Republican and Democratic interests in the past. Last month they shared with me some polling numbers indicating Burgum is viewed favorably by 60 percent of North Dakotans.
More interesting than that, however, was that 37 percent of self-identified Democrats said they view Burgum favorably versus just 34 percent who said they view him unfavorably.
DFM’s findings were backed up by an 1892 poll commissioned by Burgum’s re-election campaign and shared exclusively with me. In that survey Burgum was seen favorably by 70 percent, including 44 percent of self-identified liberal voters.
These numbers indicate that Burgum — who hasn’t officially announced he’s running yet but, c’mon, he’s running — will likely draw a lot of Democrats to the Republican ticket in 2020.
How can North Dakota Democrats hope to win when Republicans like Burgum are popular not just with other Republicans but also a significant faction of Democrats as well?
Barring some unforeseen turn of events, Burgum is likely to cruise to an easy re-election, and his bipartisan appeal will be helpful for just about every Republican on the ballot.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.