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Port: Some in Dem-NPL are 'furious' and 'disgusted' by ousting of House candidate in favor of Cara Mund

Several members of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL, people who serve in leadership positions in the party, and who have represented the party on the ballot, are using words like "disgusted" and "livid" to describe erstwhile U.S. House candidate Mark Haugen getting pushed off the ballot in favor of former Miss America Cara Mund.

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Mark Haugen, the endorsed Democratic-NPL candidate for U.S. House, speaks about his decision to withdraw from the race on Monday, Sept. 5, at his Bismarck home.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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Minot, N.D. — Over the holiday weekend, prominent members of the Democratic-NPL on social media heaped praise on Mark Haugen, who was their U.S. House candidate before he was pressured out of the race by party elites who favor the candidacy of former Miss America Cara Mund.

Haugen has said that he's notifying the Secretary of State's office to remove his name from the statewide ballot today. Assuming Mund turns in the appropriate amount of signatures to put her name on the ballot as an independent, she would be left as the only challenge to Republican incumbent Rep. Kelly Armstrong.

Based on Haugen's words at a Labor Day press conference held in his backyard, he's not feeling the love from his party.

“I’m wavering in my belief that we’re a big-tent party right now, and maybe that‘ll change, but I got into Democratic-NPL politics because I thought we were a big-tent party,” he told attendees . “I hope and believe that we can become an inclusive party that accepts all views, but the messages I received recently… it’s been hard on my wife and I.”

Haugen stepped up at the Democratic-NPL's state convention this spring to save the party from the ignominy of having gadfly and frequent fringe candidate Roland Riemers be their candidate by default. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and his pro-life views became an issue, Haugen survived a push to have the party disavow his candidacy . The party's executive committee voted overwhelmingly to stay with Haugen .

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Afterward, Democratic-NPL chairman Patrick Hart came on my podcast to stand behind Haugen. He talked about the importance of the party standing behind its chosen candidates, lest future candidates get the idea that the party will abandon them for the sake of expediency .

But then Cara Mund got into the race, and Haugen got thrown under the bus. What's most galling about that, according to many members of the Democratic-NPL I've spoken to, is that the effort to push Haugen out was led by party elites who didn't even bother to attend the state convention where he was endorsed.

I spoke with former Congressman Earl Pomeroy over the weekend who told me he was one of those who spoke to Haugen about his candidacy. Haugen himself identified former Senator Kent Conrad as another who called and asked him to leave the race .

Former Senator Heidi Heitkamp's fingerprints are also present. Mund has been fundraising with Thomas Dickson , who was chairman of Heitkamp's U.S. Senate campaigns. Mund also did a softball interview with Heitkamp's brother, Joel, last week.

Shelley Lenz.jpeg
Shelley J. Lenz was the Democratic-NPL's gubernatorial candidate in 2020, and was nearly elected as the party's chair for the 2022 cycle.
Special to The Forum

I was at the Democratic-NPL's state convention in Minot. It was a sparsely-attended affair, and there was a lot of talk about why the party's big names — people like Pomeroy, Conrad, and the Heitkamps — weren't there.

Now those elites, who couldn't bother to help their party at the state convention, have kicked to the curb the candidate chosen by the delegates who did attend, and not everyone is happy about it.

"They did Mark dirty," one person in a leadership position of the Democratic-NPL told me over the weekend, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Others are speaking more publicly.

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"I'm disgusted," Shelley Lenz told me. "I'm a little angry. I love that Mark set his piece out loud. It wasn't his decision. They're trying to make it look like his decision, but they forced him out."

Lenz was the Democratic-NPL's gubernatorial candidate in 2020, and she also ran for chair of the party earlier this cycle, receiving nearly 50 percent of the vote.

"I thought it was cool that Cara was throwing her hat in the ring as an independent. It's good to be part of the process. I wanted to hear what she was about," Lenz told me.

But now she's soured on Mund's candidacy. "I think she's tainted now. She has no platform. She's a one-issue candidate. They did her a disservice by forcing Mark out."

Lenz said the Democrats backing Mund are missing what's important to North Dakotans by focusing solely on the abortion issue. "What we need is someone who understands North Dakota, who understands our energy industry, our food industry, and what it's like to make a living in North Dakota," she said.

"Mark has always been a man of integrity. He's always stepped up. He's made a living in North Dakota, and he knows what a challenge that is. Mark has always been pro-life. It's one issue. If they're upset about a single issue, do a ballot measure, don't do this," she added.

Lenz, by the way, is pro-choice.

Jenna Vanhorne is also pro-choice. She's a dairy farmer and ran for the state Senate for the Democratic-NPL last election cycle. She told me she's "furious" about Haugen getting pushed out.

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Jenna Vanhorne lives in Steele and ran for the North Dakota Senate in District 14 during the 2020 election cycle.
Provided photo

"I believe that if they can do this to one of their own candidates, what's to stop them from doing it to the next one? I'm disappointed in the party leaders for pushing such a good man out of the race," she said. "Mark Haugen stands by his positions and has done so from the very beginning. For them to change their minds three-quarters of the way through his race is disturbing and disgusting. It's disheartening."

Would she support Mund? "If I found that she's backed by Heitkamp money, there is no way."

Kathrin Volochenko is the treasurer of the Non-Partisan League, a political entity that merged with the North Dakota Democratic Party in 1958. She was part of the effort to revive the NPL in 2017, and also ran for the state House for the Democratic-NPL in District 8 during the 2020 election cycle.

"I am appalled," she said of Haugen being pushed out. "Disgusted. It's a new low for the North Dakota Democratic Party."

"I didn't think these folks had it in them," she continued. "I didn't think they were capable of throwing Mark under the bus like they did. For what, a beauty queen?"

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Mund, who got into this race late, who has zero track record outside of campaign-trail statements to illustrate how she might vote in Congress, is trying to be all things to all people, and in politics, that's an excellent way to make most people not like you.

"I've never heard of this girl," she added. "Heidi, she's a silent partner in all this," she said, referring to former Senator Heitkamp. "I have nothing personal against the gal," she said, referencing Mund, "except she has nothing. No experience at all. For the party to throw Mark and his decades of dedication and experience - he has put his heart and soul into working for the Democratic party - to throw it away...I'm just livid."

Volochenko describes herself as pro-life, but believes abortion should be a choice between a woman and her doctor. Still, for her Haugen's views on abortion aren't a sticking point. "You cannot condemn a person just based on one issue."

Carl Young is the chair of the District 32 Democratic-NPL, which is Haugen's district. In 2020 he ran for the state House in that district for the Democratic-NPL.

"Mark Haugen has shown himself to be a stalwart leader of the Democratic-NPL, running for office multiple times over the last 25 years," Young told me. "When he stepped up in March at convention and ran for office, his position on abortion was well known."

"This goes against the principles of the Dem-NPL," he added. "We should always put our people before our party."

Young said his stance on abortion is the same as Volochenko's - he considers himself pro-life but believes it should be a lawful choice - but he, too, respects Haugen's position.

Opinion by Rob Port
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 rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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