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Mund to stay in ND as she ponders future; GOP interested in hearing from her

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Former Miss America Cara Mund, independent candidate for U.S. House, talks with two supporters at her election night party in Bismarck on Nov. 8.

Cara Mund isn't sure what's next after her unsuccessful independent congressional campaign, but Republican leaders hope to hear from her even though it's unclear if she has a future with North Dakota's dominant political party.

The former Miss America 2018 said she plans to use her law license and stay in North Dakota. She graduated earlier this year with honors from Harvard Law School, and lives in Bismarck, her hometown. 

"I really do think that North Dakota is the best state, and we work so hard for creating opportunities, and I love being a North Dakotan and I plan to stay," Mund said. 

She said she's "been sprinting this whole time" -- from graduating Harvard, to studying for the bar exam and later passing, to running her campaign. 

Political observers are curious what her future holds, given her resume. One Republican state officeholder said she would welcome Mund into the party fold. 

Mund clinched nearly 38% of the statewide vote against Republican incumbent Kelly Armstrong, competing for the state's only seat in the U.S. House.

She ran on efforts to preserve abortion rights and to promote more women in office. North Dakota has never elected a woman to the U.S. House. 

'One-woman show'

Mund announced her independent campaign about three months before Election Day. She gathered more than 2,600 signatures from throughout the state to make the ballot. 

Democratic-NPL nominee Mark Haugen withdrew from the race, citing pressure from party leaders related to Mund. He and Armstrong oppose abortion.

Mund unofficially had the best showing of any challenger to Republicans seeking statewide office. All Republicans won handily. 

She also won a greater percentage of the vote than Armstrong's past two Democratic-NPL opponents: former Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, who got 36%, and Minot retail manager Zach Raknerud, who got 28%. She won three of 53 counties, including Cass, the most populous. About 43% of eligible voters statewide cast ballots.

Mund "did acceptably" and better than how Democrats would have fared, given the timing of her entry and "how little money she had," said Mark Jendrysik, professor of political science and public administration at the University of North Dakota.

"I think there's a big, basic problem in North Dakota, is this is a one-party state. Republicans are dominant, and I don't really see much of an opening for independent candidates or Democrats in the near future," he said.

Mund said she's proud of running her independent campaign as a "one-woman show." She raised about $153,000, a fraction of Armstrong's nearly $2 million. 

She said on Election Day, "I’ve seen so many posts today of people who went to vote that felt seen, felt heard, felt validated. I’ve heard from numerous women that they now want to throw their hat in the ring, whether it be for city commissioner or school board or state office and hopefully also federal office as well. I said early on there’s a lot of ways to define a win, and just because we didn’t get the seat doesn’t mean that we weren’t a success."

Armstrong praised her as "incredibly talented, and obviously North Dakota is very proud of her."

But he wondered how effective she would be in Congress as an independent, needing to caucus with a party to receive committee assignments. Mund did say she might caucus with Republicans but wouldn't let party leaders dictate how she would vote. 

Her campaign rhetoric drew criticism from some Republican women serving in the Legislature and state office, who in a letter decried her comments about few women in elected office.

021122-nws-fedorchak.jpg (copy)

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak.

Future in NDGOP?

Public Service Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak, who signed the letter, wonders what Mund's future holds and says she would welcome her to the Republican Party.

"I would like to have the opportunity to sit down with Cara and visit with her and get a better feel for what her goals and ambitions are and how those might find a way through the Republican Party," Fedorchak said. "I would never say that she doesn't have a future in the Republican Party. She's too young to write off somebody like that. That would be foolish from the party standpoint to do that, and I'll be the one advocating for not doing that." 

Perrie Schafer

Schafer

State GOP Chairman Perrie Schafer said Mund's support for abortion rights "doesn't sell well in the state of North Dakota," but added he does "look forward to hearing from Cara, actually."

"She's talked about me in the past, but she's never, ever made an attempt to communicate with me, so I look forward to her attempt to sit down and visit. That would be good," Schafer said. 

But Fedorchak said Mund has "some bridges to build" -- that Mund's comments about few women in elected office "did not sit well with me," not being a fan of "identity politics."

"Everyone should have an opportunity, regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation. Everyone should have an opportunity. I believe they do," Fedorchak said. "You prove yourself in North Dakota and anywhere based on your beliefs and your work ethic, and that's what I've spent my entire career doing."

Fedorchak said she's also received comments from young women who "see my work and think, 'That's an opportunity; I'd like to do that, and Julie shows me that I can.'" 

"I also feel that way about young men," she said. "I think that any time a leader presents a model for behavior that inspires others, it doesn't just speak to their gender." 

Mund interned for U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., whom she has praised.

John Hoeven

John Hoeven

Hoeven in a statement said, "I’ve known Cara since she was young and was pleased to have her work with us in D.C. Also, we were excited and happy for her when she won the Miss America title and know she worked hard to earn her law degree. As far as politics, I had hoped she would have joined the Republican Party but understand she has chosen to go a different direction."

Mund made clear in her campaign she is an independent, and criticized new party rules banning past non-Republican candidates from seeking the GOP endorsement for six years, as well as charging four-figure fees to do so. 

Fedorchak said the rule is "fine" and ensures "consistent engagement" with the GOP. She noted Mund is in her 20s, and six years is "just a blink of the eye."

"In six years, I'll be done, she can run for my seat," she joked, referring to the length of her newly won PSC term.

"I would hope she would start thinking about (her future) now and start building back those bridges if she feels like her principles and policy philosophies align best with the Republican principles," Fedorchak said. 

'Captured attention'

But a future with the GOP could be sealed for Mund, according to Jendrysik, the political science professor. 

Her support for abortion rights likely won't win her Republican support, he said.

Her campaign could have been more competitive had she started much earlier and raised more money, but overcoming North Dakota's Republican dominance is essentially insurmountable, he said. 

Mund as a former Miss America and a new attorney with a Harvard law degree could go on to do "pretty much anything she wants," Jendrysik said. 

"I think certainly she captured a lot of the public's attention, which is vital in politics," he said.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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