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Other views: ‘Coffee with Cramer’ a smooth blend

When then-Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., ran for re-election in 2010, he lost. Why?

Two key reasons:

First, Pomeroy had voted for the Affordable Care Act earlier that year. And second, Pomeroy didn’t hold any face-to-face Town Hall meetings during his campaign.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and the man who now holds Pomeroy’s old seat, is among those who think Pomeroy’s refusal to answer questions from the public face-to-face was decisive. North Dakotans want that chance to talk with their elected officials, Cramer believes.

Furthermore, voters respect elected officials who offer it — because the public knows that when the cameras are rolling at unscripted events, a lot can go wrong.

In other words, Town Hall meetings are a major political risk. And that’s a huge reason why lots of politicians shy away from them.

To his credit, Cramer has been very good about offering that kind of access. Just last week, he hosted a “Coffee with Cramer” event in Grand Forks; more about that in a minute. And he’s on talk radio often enough so that anyone who wants to pose a question to him on the air probably can do so.

This willingness to juggle political grenades is all the more impressive because Cramer has had a few such bomblets go off. His off-the-cuff comments at various public events already have generated a few “gotcha!” moments, and Cramer has only been in Congress for a year.

Yet not only does he keep taking questions, he also appears to genuinely enjoy the interaction.

The net result is that if Cramer is re-elected next year, his willingness to talk with constituents in public is sure to be a big reason why.

It may be a high-risk operation, given the possibility of an embarrassing statement or action “going viral.” But it’s also high-reward. It’s much appreciated by voters — and the more often a candidate takes questions from the public, the more goodwill the candidate generates, and the more likely voters are to forgive the occasional gaffe.

Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp (neither of whom have shown much inclination to schedule Town Halls), take note.

On Friday, The Forum in Fargo editorialized on this topic and also saluted Cramer. Today, we’re happy to join our colleagues in this view, and we urge other NoDak and Minnesota candidates and officials to follow the congressman’s lead.

Now, about “Coffee with Cramer”:

These get-togethers are a deft way of easing the tension and lowering the political risk. They are sit-down events over coffee, which means everyone’s on the same relaxed level — literally. Gone are the distance and elevation created when a speaker stands behind a podium up on a stage. Gone is the sense among listeners that they’re an “audience.” Instead, the mood is more, “We’re all North Dakotans, we’re all in this together.”

And gone as well is much of the risk of heckling, the dreaded bane of public speakers. Heckling is a lot harder to do in a friendly and intimate place such as a coffee shop. The setting puts everybody on their best behavior, including the official’s political foes.

All in all, Cramer has found a way to enjoy the benefits of meeting the public while lowering the odds of generating bad headlines. Nicely done.

The Grand Forks Herald’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.

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