District 35 Democrats voted to endorse Erin Hill-Oban as their candidate for state Senate on Saturday, derailing a bid by Tracy Potter to return to the seat he held for one term.
Hill-Oban’s endorsement along with a candidate for one of the two House seats in the district was the main event during the Bismarck-Mandan area Democrats district conventions Saturday. Potter was later nominated for the second District 35 House seat but declined the nomination, saying he wants to take some time to consider whether he wants to run for the House.
Approximately 115 District 35 Democrats voted by secret ballot, with Hill-Oban getting the nod over Potter, who held the District 35 seat from 2006 to 2010. The Democrats didn’t release the breakdown of the vote.
First-time candidate Darrell Miller was endorsed for one of the two District 35 House seats up for election.
The Bismarck convention drew approximately 250 people at Horizon Middle School for Districts 7, 30, 32, 35 and 47. No candidates were endorsed for Districts 7 or 47 on Saturday.
All odd-numbered legislative districts are up for election this year. Even-numbered districts’ primary business during their individual conventions is to select delegates for the state convention. The state Democratic-NPL Party convention is scheduled for March 28-29 in Fargo.
As the Bismarck Democrats were winding down their convention, about 35 Democrats from Districts 31, 33 and 34 held their convention at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union office in Mandan.
No candidates were endorsed from Districts 31 or 33.
The lion’s share of the attention during the Bismarck convention centered on District 35.
“I want to be a senator for everyone in this room and everyone not in this room,” Hill-Oban said.
Hill-Oban has been active with the party during multiple elections, most recently on former state Sen. Ryan Taylor’s unsuccessful 2012 gubernatorial campaign. She and Potter had been vying to run for the seat held by Republican Margaret Sitte.
Potter narrowly defeated Sitte in 2006 for the seat but ran for U.S. Senate in 2010.
With Republicans holding every Bismarck-Mandan legislative seat, the Democrats see a possible pick-up.
Hill-Oban said “this seat won’t be won” by her alone, but by hard work from district Democrats.
District 35 delegate Mike Frohlich, who gave a nominating speech for Hill-Oban, said he believes Bismarck needs someone who represents and speaks on a wider variety of constituent concerns and not just such hot-button issues as abortion. Sitte voted for abortion restrictions last session, including a November ballot resolution that defines life as beginning at conception.
“We need a more moderate voice now more than ever,” Frohlich said.
Following the vote of District 35 delegates, April Fairfield nominated Potter to be endorsed as their candidate for the second House seat.
“We can’t let him go,” Fairfield said.
Potter told the delegates he was happy for their support but that he would have to choose “to decline at this time.”
Potter said he hadn’t had a Plan B if he lost the vote to Hill-Oban. He said he wasn’t sure if he wanted to instead run for the state House.
“Give it a few weeks,” Potter said.
He did not rule it out but said he’d like to have time to consider it while other candidates are given the chance to do so.
Miller said he’s in the race to bring balance back to Bismarck.
“That is the thing that is missing in this state,” Miller said.
The Republicans have two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers and hold every elected statewide office.
Miller said the legislative dominance of the Republicans and their control of the Capitol leads to a lack of debate and a “my way or the highway” approach to governing.
Tax commissioner candidate Jason Astrup spoke to attendees in Bismarck and Mandan on Saturday. He’s the only Democrat who has announced his candidacy for a statewide office so far.
Taylor received a standing ovation from the Bismarck crowd and spoke briefly as well. He said earlier this week that he’s considering a run for the agriculture commissioner’s office.
“There’s no announcement today,” Taylor said.