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Port: Burgum won by turning the left-right extremes against the middle

Rob Port

Doug Burgum beat Wayne Stenehjem in the gubernatorial primary, and Democrats were the key.

After years of Stenehjem being regarded in political circles as almost unbeatable on the statewide ballot he lost in a big way to Burgum.

Burgum’s money is one easy explanation for the win. His aggressive campaign of character assassination is another one.

It may be fashionable for the public to complain about mudslinging and big money in politics, but those complainers are hypocrites. Politicians sling mud, and spend prodigious amounts of money on elections, because it works.

Let’s drill a bit deeper, though. Burgum won because he was able to build an unlikely coalition between the extreme right and the extreme left, working both ends of the political spectrum against the middle.

One need look no further than the crowd of people supporting Burgum to see the truth of this. Former NDGOP chairmen Robert Harms and Gary Emineth were some his most outspoken campaign surrogates, but quietly in the background, Democrats were working to support Burgum too.

Sometimes not so quietly. Days before the election Jim Fuglie, a former chairman of the Democratic state party, posted an open plea on social media for liberals to support Burgum. Left wing talk radio host Joel Heitkamp has also been a booster.

Burgum’s wink wink, nod nod campaign for Democrat support, even as he ran as a Trump-loving conservative to Republicans, flat-out worked.

Doing some quick and dirty math, it sure looks like a lot of Democrats crossed over to vote for Burgum. In the 2012 primary vote there were approximately 1.8 votes on the Republican slate of candidates for every 1 vote on the Democratic slate.

In 2016, with just over 37 percent of precincts reporting, the ratio is roughly 6 Republican votes for every Democratic vote.

A lot of Democrats decided they were Republicans on Tuesday night.

That sort of a coalition might be a winning strategy for short timeline primary campaign taking place in a Trump-influenced bizarro world political cycle, but what does it mean for Burgum’s ability to govern?

He’ll have little problem steamrolling the actual Democratic candidate, Marvin Nelson, in the general election. But when Burgum arrives in Bismarck to take his seat in the capitol he’ll have to contend with Stenehjem, who will serve alongside him on the powerful Industrial Commission, and a Republican legislative caucus that he spent the campaign season blasting in campaign ads.

In fact, thanks to Burgum’s campaign messaging, we can probably bet on a smaller Republican caucus heading into the 2017 legislative session.

Good luck with that, Doug.

Port, founder ofsayanythingblog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator.