McFeely: Mund's already near-impossible battle just got infinitely tougher
By encouraging Mark Haugen to leave the U.S. House race, Democrats assure independent candidate will be labeled as anything but independent
FARGO — The beauty of Cara Mund's organic and independent bid for North Dakota's U.S. House seat was that it was organic and independent, a longshot bid that had the potential to shake up an otherwise boring political year and at least make incumbent Republican Kelly Armstrong lose a bead of sweat or two.
Mund wasn't going win, but it was going to be interesting to see how much of the vote a third candidate could garner taking on Armstrong and Democrat Mark Haugen.
And perhaps that could've opened the door for more independent candidates in the state. Which, from an avowed left-leaning position, would be a good thing in nuclear red North Dakota. Democrats aren't going to win head-to-head races. But can they, or an intriguing independent candidate, win with the vote split three ways?
Math. It's cool.
Unfortunately, some North Dakota Democrats just couldn't help themselves. And any hope Mund had of rattling some cages this fall evaporated.
The hot political news in North Dakota is that Haugen, who volunteered at the Democratic convention to run against Armstrong when nobody else would, was encouraged by some Democrats to drop out of the race to make way for Mund.
There are Democratic fingerprints all over this development.
Republicans, predictably and wisely, immediately branded Mund a tool of the Democrats and assailed her as "radical" because of her pro-choice stance on abortion.
Mund's already uphill battle got infinitely more difficult.
It's become a one-on-one partisan "us vs. them" race. Republicans don't lose "us vs. them" races in North Dakota.
Mund is much less strong labeled as "progressive" or a "Democrat" than as "moderate" or "independent" when compared to Armstrong.
She is already getting bad press because of Haugen's ouster. Forum News Service columnist Rob Port quoted a few Democrats who used words like "disservice," "disgusted" and "appalled" to describe Haugen's treatment.
Mund's most notable stance thus far has been abortion. She's pro-choice. National trends show independents and Democrats (and very quiet pro-choice Republicans) energized by the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. It's a thing. Both Haugen and Armstrong are anti-choice, so Mund provided an off-ramp for Democrats, Republicans (particularly women) and independents.
The anti-choice vote would've been split. Now there's only one alternative in Armstrong.
Can Mund get to 51%? No. Was it an easier path to get to 41%, with Armstrong getting, say, 40% and Haugen getting 19%? Yes, although admittedly still almost impossible.
But the sliver of a chance Mund had to disrupt the race was the chaos brought about by her independent, third-person bid. Give voters, particularly Republicans disgusted by Trumpism who will never vote for a Democrat, a third option. Give everyone disheartened by hyper-partisan party politics an alternative, as young and inexperienced as it might be.
That was the chance Mund had to make some noise and build a political brand for the future. She likely wasn't going to win this year. But playing the long game, could she have been more relevant and better funded in 2024? Or 2026?
Maybe. Instead, Mund will be climbing Mount Everest instead of Mount Denali.