In a polarized political climate, North Dakota's candidates for the state's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives has led to arguments over who can be less partisan.
“It’s absolutely not wise to commit to 100 percent loyalty to anybody,” Republican candidate Kelly Armstrong told viewers of the Prairie Public-hosted debate last month.
University of North Dakota political science professor Bo Wood said, for a Democrat trying to get elected in North Dakota, “you would expect them to say that.”
Indeed, Democratic candidate Mac Schneider brought up issues, such as Medicaid expansion proposed by Republican former Gov. Jack Dalrymple, in which he says he worked with the other party. He also pointed to his stances as a supporter of energy development, particularly coal, and the Second Amendment.
“I think what we need to do in this country is just set aside ideology and that really begins with electing people who are willing to work with both parties,” Schneider said. “We’ve only got one out of 435 members of that chaotic body. If that person isn’t setting aside ideology ... that jobs not going to get done for North Dakota.”
Armstrong did say he would stand on principle when it matters, whether it be against Democrats or Republicans. He also touted times he went against members of his party and tried to paint his opponent as a staunch partisan.
“It’s easy to fight with Democrats. It’s a lot harder when you’re the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to take on the Republican-controlled Land Department on an issue you think is wrong,” Armstrong said. “I have never ever shied away from taking on members of my own party when I thought it was better for North Dakota citizens.”
Wood said, should those sentiments of bipartisanship hold true, he thinks it would be “refreshing” and in direct contrast to the rest of the country.
But for Armstrong, Wood said that’s less expected, pointing to Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., as an example.
“He’s very much a Trump guy,” Wood said of Cramer.
Wood’s UND colleague Mark Jendrysik echoed those sentiments, saying Cramer has vouched to support the president 100 percent, without question.
“(Armstrong’s) stance is more of a surprise,” Wood said.
For example, Armstrong said in the debate he would readily vote in approval of either version of the proposed 2018 Farm Bill instead of standing with the more partisan House version. There are things in the House version he likes but said “the good of either far outweighs the bad.”
For Schneider's part, he's said he sees need for change in his own party and has vowed to vote for new party leadership.
Jendrysik sees the candidates' pledges of bipartisanship as more of a “ritual invocation.”
“It’s something everyone running for national office says,” he said.
But Jendrysik said standing against your own party — Democrat or Republican — as a junior member of Congress is difficult.
“I don’t mean that in a bad way ... but if you have a reputation as a loose cannon, leadership is not going to put you in positions of power and authority,” he said, adding that demonstrating partisanship is how members are awarded committee positions.
Otherwise, being the lone member form North Dakota can make it hard to become an influential player.