North Dakota Republicans flexed their muscles on Tuesday, taking away the only statewide seat held by Democrats. With Rep. Kevin Cramer’s victory over Sen. Heidi Heitkamp voters demonstrated that North Dakota is a bright red state.
With no Democrats holding state offices and the GOP retaining majorities in the state House and Senate the hole just got deeper for the Democratic-NPL Party. There’s no doubt the majority of residents are satisfied with Republican governance.
Though the Democrats fielded a better slate of candidates than in 2016, they failed to capture the attention of voters. Even when Secretary of State Al Jaeger was dumped by his party and was relied on again after the GOP’s endorsed candidate withdrew, Democrats couldn’t take away the office.
Heitkamp’s fate was likely sealed by the raucous hearing over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court and an ad by her campaign that used women’s names without their permission. Despite outspending Cramer she couldn’t slow the Republican momentum aided by two visits by President Donald Trump, who remains popular in the state. Vice President Mike Pence also visited to lend support to Cramer.
Any Democratic resurgence will be a slow process since Republicans are entrenched in state offices at the Capitol. Democrats must do a better job of grooming candidates and defining the issues. They can’t abandon their young candidates just because they lost. Democratic state Sen. Erin Oban won re-election over former Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth in Bismarck’s District 35, making her a potential candidate for higher office in the future. Otherwise the results were dismal for the Democratic-NPL Party.
The Republican challenge is to avoid becoming complacent. In North Dakota they are responsible for what happens in government. They can’t blame anyone else for difficulties the state encounters.
Cramer and Republican Kelly Armstrong, who was elected to the U.S. House, will face the challenge of a Congress split between the two parties. The GOP retained control of the Senate and Democrats won the House. It’s probably wishful thinking to hope the split will result in more bipartisanship.
There were some surprises in the election. House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, had problems in the primary in District 41. On Tuesday he finished last in the four-way race for the North Dakota House. It will be interesting to see what kind of leader Republicans select and how well he or she can maneuver the party.
Voters demonstrated their independent streak when they approved Measure 1, which creates an ethics commission and seeks more transparency in lobbying and political spending. Just about every major group in North Dakota, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, opposed the measure. The Republican Legislature has turned back attempts to create an ethics commission, but voters thought differently.
While supportive of incumbents, voters apparently feel there’s a need for more transparency in government. They like their elected officials, but want safeguards in place.
The Tribune Editorial Board opposed the measure because we questioned whether the language of the measure was clear. We also were concerned with what the Legislature would do with the measure. It may need some fine-tuning, but legislators shouldn’t forget the intent of the measure and the public. The state doesn’t need another situation like we had two years ago with the medical marijuana measure. That’s still not a done deal. There’s also the possibility the measure will be challenged in court.
The extent of the defeat of Measure 3 to legalize marijuana shows residents aren’t ready for such a major change. While two years ago they embraced medical marijuana, this year they apparently foresaw problems with a legalizing a drug.
Overall, North Dakota voters were pretty clear about where they stand on candidates and issues. Cramer and Armstrong go to Congress with a clear mandate and should be congratulated along with the other winners. The public will be watching to see how they do.