Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Looking at the significant shifts in Republican fortunes in Pennsylvania and Alabama, North Dakota Democrats feel that it could be downhill with the wind to their backs in 2018, something like the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964 when an impressive number of Democrats were swept into office.

There were few public opinion polls in 1964 so partisans in both parties were caught by surprise when this phenomenal Democratic tsunami hit conservative North Dakota.

In that election, the state not only re-elected incumbents Sen. Quentin Burdick, Gov. William Guy and Public Service Commissioner Bruce Hagen by significant margins but added Lt. Gov. Charles Tighe, Treasurer Walt Christensen and Insurance Commissioner Kelly Nygaard.

The legislative races demonstrated the depth of the change when Democrats won control of the House of Representatives by turning over 20 Republican House seats. In fact, many of the districts filled their legislative tickets with the promise that there was little chance they would ever get elected and go to Bismarck.

Even though Democrats had a senator and the governor, the party was a mess at the beginning of the year.

Lacking nominees for several state offices, the party convention passed a resolution authorizing the executive committee to recruit candidates and went home.

In the middle of July, the party headquarters was so poor, according to one observer, that it didn’t even have enough money for postage to ask the precinct committeemen to send emergency help.

It was an election year without promise until the votes came in. Democrats are now wondering: Will there be any comparison of 2018 to 1964?

Democrats have become emboldened this year, considering all of the turnovers that have been occurring in offices at all levels. In addition, they have a few advantages heading into the fall campaign.

First, the level of enthusiasm and optimism is higher among Democrats than Republicans, meaning that Democrats will have a better turnout than usual.

Second, without explaining the reasons, the party opposite that of the incumbent president gains political victories in the off-presidential years.

Third, the Democratic convention nominated a formidable slate of state candidate to run with incumbent senator Heidi Heitkamp. Heitkamp is leading Kevin Cramer in the early polling.

Fourth, the chaos in Washington is already shaping the mood for change. A number of political scientists contend that elections are often determined months before the voting by the mood that has been established over time. The election could already be over.

Fifth, the president is offending North Dakota moral values.

All of this being said, 2018 will not necessarily be roses for Democrats. Republicans have some major offsetting advantages.

First, North Dakota has become more conservative since 1964, so Republicans have a large reservoir of inherent strength.

Second, Republican candidates will have more money for their campaign. Even though Heitkamp has a bigger campaign chest at present, Cramer has been promised unlimited support from Washington.

Third, Republican state candidates have the benefit of incumbency. North Dakota does not throw incumbents out of office without good cause.

Fourth, in 1964 the entire House of Representatives had two-year terms. With the four-year terms, only half as many House candidates are running, so Democrats have fewer opportunities to turn seats over.

Fifth, Republicans can coalesce and bury their internal grievances during the campaign season. On the other hand, Democratic dissidents can’t quite shake their differences.

So, will North Dakota see anything like a political tsunami in 2018? Mike Jacobs, a very insightful observer of North Dakota affairs, says that the North Dakota political climate is unsettled. So keep a surfboard handy just in case.

Lloyd Omdahl is a political scientist and former North Dakota lieutenant governor. His column appears Sundays.