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ND Democrats fundraising to challenge 'extreme' Republican policies

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FARGO -- The North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party is pushing to fill a campaign war chest for the 2014 election in the aftermath of a legislative session that passed voter identification and abortion restrictions.

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An email from former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., went out Sunday urging supporters to donate in the final hours before a quarterly campaign contribution reporting deadline closed.

"This year, North Dakota has seen some of the most extreme policies to date come out of Bismarck -- from making it harder for all North Dakotans to exercise their right to vote by passing a voter ID law, to passing some of the most extreme anti-woman legislation in the country," Dorgan wrote.

A Democratic spokeswoman said that the party already is hearing from new people motivated to become involved with the party because of the new abortion restrictions, now facing court challenges.

The restrictions will directly affect the lives of women, said Rania Batrice, communications director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party.

"When it becomes that real it does intensify things," she said. "Activism comes from this kind of thing."

North Dakota Republicans, who hold almost all statewide offices and wield supermajority control of the Legislature, will be ready for any challenge, said Jason Flohrs, the party's executive director.

Because it is an off-cycle election -- with no U.S. Senate or gubernatorial race -- the legislative races will get more attention, he said.

"The Legislature is going to play a little bit more of a front-and-center role," Flohrs said. "We're prepared for that."

Although Democrats will try to exploit the controversial new laws involving abortion and voter registration, among others, Republicans will run on the massive infrastructure investments, education spending and tax relief, he said.

"We're happy to be running on that platform," Flohrs added.

Democrats don't expect Republicans to "sit on their hands," but early signs point to an unusual degree of engagement among Democrats and supporters, Batrice said.

"The Democrats are united and it's a clear path forward," she said.

Despite the legislative controversies, a veteran political scientist and former Democratic officeholder said it will be difficult for the party to make headway.

"The state's more conservative than it's been for years," said Lloyd Omdahl, a retired political science professor at the University of North Dakota and former lieutenant governor.

"I don't see anything happening that's going to change things significantly," he said. "I think they have a tough row to hoe."

Elections are decided by the mood of the state, Omdahl added, and that mood has turned decidedly conservative. Also, he said, Republicans benefit from the state's oil prosperity.

Campaign contribution reports to the Federal Election Commission for the quarter that ended Sunday are not yet available.

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