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Port: The NRA places its bet in North Dakota's Republican Senate primary, and it's not on Rick Becker

Rick Becker
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck.
Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune
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MINOT, N.D. — The National Rifle Association, a hugely consequential organization for conservatives, has endorsed U.S. Senate incumbent John Hoeven over state Rep. Rick Becker, his challenger in the Republican primary.

"Thank you again for your steadfast support of the Second Amendment," John Ouimet, chairman of the NRA's political arm, wrote to Hoeven in a letter. "Good luck in the 2022 North Dakota Republican Convention, and we look forward to our continued relationship."

The endorsement of the NRA is valuable to a Republican candidate, particularly in a Republican primary, but more interesting, for our purposes, is the calculation on display from the NRA.

As a practical matter of policy, there's not a lot of daylight between Becker and Hoeven on the issue of gun rights. Despite Becker's endless caterwauling about Hoeven's supposedly liberal record in Washington — which is as misleading as it is obnoxious — both men have sterling records on the Second Amendment.

For the NRA, each of these candidates would have been an ally.

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So why did the NRA pick Hoeven and not Becker?

The Becker Backers — those folks who boo the idea of statesmanship while their candidate promises mass arrests of their political enemies — are already hatching conspiracy theories about how the NRA is part of the deep state.

No, I'm not kidding .

There's a simpler explanation, and it has nothing to do with conspiracies.

The NRA expects Hoeven to win, and since their organization's goal is to have allies for their cause in Congress, backing the winner makes sense.

And which reality-based observer can quibble with that calculus?

Becker thinks he's leading a revolutionary movement. He's certainly been effective at packing his supporters into the small rooms that play host the NDGOP's district-level conventions, but it's not a strategy that will earn him a seat in the Senate.

Becker and his backers are manipulating the NDGOP's convention process. Former Gov. Ed Schafer spoke about it with me on the Plain Talk podcast recently, noting that the Becker crowd shows up and screams "point of order, point of order, point of order" for hours on end until those who oppose them give up and go home.

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The "nastiness" of Becker's campaign (to use Schafer's word) has paid some short-term dividends for the candidate. He may well give Hoeven a run for his money at the NDGOP's state convention. He may even win the endorsement at that convention.

But politics is the art of persuasion. Not the art of winning by being so toxic your opponents give up.

Hoeven is a known quantity in North Dakota. There's a reason he hasn't garnered less than 70% of the vote in any statewide election since his first, for governor, more than 20 years ago, and it's not because he just happens to be a Republican in a very Republican state.

He's earned that support by being a diligent public servant, even if you or I could undoubtedly comb through his legislative track record and find some votes we don't like. If Hoeven doesn't win the endorsement packed with Becker's reactionaries, that aforementioned support will be there for him on the statewide ballot in June.

Because Hoeven really is a public servant, and that contrasts favorably with Becker who is a bomb-throwing ideologue hoping to get a job in a town that is already well supplied with that variety of imbecile.

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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