Port: It's probably going to be a good year for incumbents

Kylie Oversen, a former state legislator from Grand Forks and chairwoman of the state Democratic-NPL, announced her bid for tax commissioner at UND on Wednesday. (Herald photo/Sam Easter)

MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota's Democrats are so thoroughly marginalized by voters they have taken to bragging about finding enough warm bodies to run for elected office.

The filing deadline for the June ballot was April 6, and the Democrats actually have candidates for all of the statewide races.

"Whether they’re running for statewide or legislative office, the level of commitment and heart I’m seeing from Dem-NPLers this year is impressive," chairwoman Kylie Oversen said in a release .

Apparently "commitment" and "heart" is defined, in the current situation, as "people who showed up."

Though it does take a certain amount of perseverance to sign up for the sort of political beating Democrats on our statewide ballot typically receive.


As for the legislative races, the Democrats are proud to have only left 20% of those races without a candidate.

Only 20%.

"The Democratic-NPL will field 55 legislative candidates, or 80% of the races on the November ballot," the party said in a release .

The last Democrat not named Heidi Heitkamp to win a statewide election in North Dakota was former Rep. Earl Pomery in 2008.

The last Democrat to win a state-level office was Roger Johnson, who was last elected Agriculture Commissioner in 2006.

The Democrats haven't had a majority in the state Senate since 1994, or the state House since 1984.

But the party would like you to know that their crop of legislative candidates this cycle is "one of the most diverse tickets in North Dakota history in regards to race, gender, sexual orientation, and geography."

Identity politics, Democrats? Really?


Why should North Dakota voters care about the skin color or the gender of a given candidate?

By the way, anyone curious as to how Democrats are measuring geographic diversity? Legislative candidates must, by law and custom, live in the districts they hope to serve.

Anyway, is 2020 the election cycle when Democrats can finally steer their bus out of the ditch?

In any normal year, looking at this cast of candidates the Democrats have put forward, it would be very unlikely.

Local legislative races can be hard to predict. They tend to be driven by personalities and intensely local issues. Also four years ago Republicans, in the Trump wave, picked up a number of seats in what have historically been left-leaning districts.

There may be some opportunities for Democrats to re-take some seats.

But those would be marginal gains, at best, and the slate of statewide candidates Democrats have announced is uninspiring.

Also, things aren't normal. This is the year of coronavirus, which is going to give incumbents (which, in North Dakota, are mostly Republicans) a heavy advantage.


Challengers must build networks. Volunteers and donors and, ultimately, voters.

How do you do that when denied the traditional methods of campaigning for at least part of the campaign season?

It's not impossible. Just extremely difficult, especially for a political party with so many other disadvantages.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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