Mike Jacobs: For my last column, some politics
North Dakota's results fit the national election narrative.
Last week’s election didn’t produce any surprises in North Dakota. Republicans won, of course. They did so overwhelmingly in legislative races, handily in statewide races, not so convincingly in the federal races.
Independent candidates deprived Republicans of the overwhelming victories they’d claimed in recent elections. Republican John Hoeven got 56% of the vote to win his third term in the U.S. Senate, down from 78% in his last ballot appearance in 2016. The Democrat, Katrina Christiansen got 25% of the vote. The rest went to independent Rick Becker, a Republican renegade who entered the race after losing the endorsement at the party’s state convention, a raucous affair. His performance there confirmed what had been expected — that dissidents are more likely to become convention delegates while moderates are more likely to vote.
The distribution of votes also confirmed what we already knew. The Democrat, Christiansen, did better in the state’s cities and among its Indigenous communities. Becker did better in the rural central part of the state, earning a third of the votes in Wells and Sheridan counties, for example. These are rural counties with declining populations. Hoeven did better in what might be called “the corner counties,” Cavalier and Pembina in the northeast and Adams, Billings and Bowman in the southwest. His vote totals there exceeded 70%, nearly equaling his statewide total in his last election. He did less well in the state’s cities, falling below 50% in Cass County and reaching just above the halfway mark in Grand Forks and Burleigh counties. Cass County includes Fargo and Burleigh includes Bismarck.
Adding together Becker and Hoeven’s statewide votes makes a total of 75%. That’s just a notch below Hoeven’s statewide showing in 2016.
The race for the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives gives us a slightly different lens, since there was no Democratic candidate. Independent Carla Mund got 37.6% of the vote, far more than any Democratic statewide candidate. She won 51% of votes in Cass County, which includes Fargo, the state’s largest city.
There’s little to report about down-ballot statewide races. Republicans won. Incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring had the largest vote total, 177,935. Drew Wrigley, appointed attorney general earlier this year, was the runner-up with 166,055 votes. That’s 76.7% for Goehring and 71% for Wrigley. Julie Fedorchak, running for reelection to the Public Service Commission got fewer votes than Wrigley, 164,731, but that was a higher percentage of votes cast for the office, so she would have a claim on the runner-up spot.
Results in legislative races confirm the Republican grip on state politics. Democrats won two seats west of Interstate 29, both in Indian Country, at Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain. Reapportionment cost Democratic seats in north-central North Dakota. Richard Marcellais, longtime senator from Rolette County and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, lost his reelection bid when the district was enlarged. So did Marvin Nelson, the party’s gubernatorial candidate in 2016, when he lost to Doug Burgum.
Democrats lost a senator and one House member in Grand Forks, leaving only one Democratic legislator from the city. We don’t know who that is quite yet. Incumbents Zach Ista and Mary Adams, the Democrats, are three votes apart. Republican Eric Murphy won the other House seat.
And so the Democratic Party is confined mostly to the state’s metropolis, Fargo, that city to the south. This, too, continues a trend. Democrats have been squeezed out just about everywhere else in the state.
The “red tide” extends into Minnesota, as well. Michelle Fischbach was reelected in District 7, bordering the Dakotas. She “flipped” the seat from Democrat Collin Peterson in 2020.
North Dakotans decided on two ballot measures, adopting term limits and rejecting recreational marijuana.
The term limits amendment got 63% of the vote, short of the 81% sponsors of the amendment claimed in their television campaign. Fifty five percent of voters said “no” to marijuana. The measure carried in four counties, Cass, Grand Forks, Rolette and Sioux. The first two are urban counties, the last two are heavily native. The vote was close in two other counties, Benson and Mountrail, both with substantial native populations.
Looking at a more distant horizon, it appears North Dakota’s results fit the developing narrative about the 2022 election nationwide. Although the outcome is not final, the results so far suggest a shift to the middle ground in American politics. Both of the federal races in North Dakota reflect that trend. The arch-conservative Becker did less well than expected – at least than I expected. Independent Cara Mund drew more votes than any Democrat on the ballot, establishing that North Dakotans don't always automatically vote for the Republican Party.
Today, Nov. 16, 2022, is my 75th birthday and this is my last column. I’ve outlasted my sources and I don’t have the energy to cultivate new ones. The column has been a great privilege and a considerable adventure. Thanks for reading.
Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.