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Incumbents claim fundraising advantage in North Dakota congressional races

GRAND FORKS -- Challengers for this year's congressional races in North Dakota fall far behind in the race for capital. U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican defending his seat in North Dakota against Eliot Glassheim, had roughly 372 times as much ...

TOM STROMME/TribuneChase Iron Eyes speaks at his booth at the 2016 North Dakota Democratic-NPL state convention where he is seeking the party's nomination for Congress. The convention continues Saturday in Bismarck.
TOM STROMME/TribuneChase Iron Eyes speaks at his booth at the 2016 North Dakota Democratic-NPL state convention where he is seeking the party's nomination for Congress. The convention continues Saturday in Bismarck.

GRAND FORKS - Challengers for this year's congressional races in North Dakota fall far behind in the race for capital.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican defending his seat in North Dakota against Eliot Glassheim, had roughly 372 times as much cash on hand at the end of September. At the same time, Chase Iron Eyes, the Democrat challenging North Dakota's U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, had only about one-eighteenth of his rival's money.

"The simplest explanation is always the best: People don't want to give money to losers,"said Bo Wood, a professor for the University of North Dakota's political science and public administration department. While sometimes gifts are a token of friendship, sometimes donations can be a pathway to political access or support of favorable policies, Wood said. Those donations are less forthcoming when a candidate looks less viable, he said.

But there's more to it than the policies themselves, Wood said. There's the existing war chest an incumbent usually brings, the existing connections with their own donors and the wider name recognition that all work against a newcomer.

"The best thing that a challenger candidate can do is simply work hard enough to make the race close enough, but it's always uphill," Wood said.

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According to documents on file with the Federal Election Commission, the Glassheim campaign's third-quarter spending-from July 1 to Oct. 1-included a little more than $21,000 in operating expenditures.

But that's only about 2 percent of the Hoeven campaign's operating expenses over the same period, which is pegged at more than $1 million. Hoeven also ended September with far more cash on hand than Glassheim, at more than $2 million to $5,475-nearly 372 times as much money.

"(An incumbent's) name is better known; they are able to point to money they've delivered to their home districts, whereas a challenger cannot do that," Glassheim said, echoing many of Wood's points. "They've been raising money, Hoeven has been raising money for the past six years. ... It's not a secret that I started far behind, and that Hoeven is well-known and has not done anything awful to make people want to replace him."

Glassheim's campaign has received slightly less than $30,000 this election cycle as of Oct. 19, with a large chunk donated by Dakota Prairie PAC as well as leading state Democrats, like Kent Conrad and Sarah Voegel.

Hoeven's campaign has received more than $2.6 million in total contributions between the beginning of 2015 to Oct. 19. A donor-by-donor breakdown for the same period includes donors like NORPAC, a pro-Israel political action committee based in New Jersey, as well as funds from donors from business leaders in a range of industries, including energy and unmanned aircraft.

"We never take anything for granted, that is why we work so hard to run a strong campaign," Deb Seminary, a staff member for Hoeven's campaign, said in an email. "We can only speak for our campaign, but we believe it is people responding to our vision for North Dakota and our country."

For Iron Eyes, the figures are a little better, but still contrast sharply with Cramer's incumbent campaign. Iron Eyes had about $52,000 in operating expenses in third-quarter spending. Cramer has more than $280,000. At the end of September, Cramer's campaign had more than 18 times as much cash on hand as Iron Eyes, at a little more than $31,000 to $583,000.

Iron Eyes argued that there are multiple factors in play. Not only did he point out struggles with name recognition, but argued that Bakken-driven oil money has flooded into politics in recent years. He also argued that Democrats "need to focus more on our NPL roots" in North Dakota, and push back on the right-leaning messaging that he said has made Democrats out as staunchly anti-gun and willing to raise taxes on working families.
"When you're an incumbent, you've been exposed to the donating class-the donating political class, and so you've got those networks, you've got those connections," Iron Eyes added.

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Online FEC filings show that, between late March and Oct. 19, Iron Eyes' campaign has hauled in about $165,000. Notable donations include thousands from groups like the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in California and the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota.

Cramer's campaign saw about $1.3 million in contributions between the beginning of 2015 and mid-October. His filings list, like Hoeven, that a number of his contributions included donations from corporate leaders in a range of industries, from manufacturing to energy to finance.

"Is this about me and Chase Iron Eyes and our appeal to voters and donors? I think it largely is, but is it a benefit to me to be Republican in North Dakota? I think that's also true," Cramer said. "But I'd also remind your readers, up until Obamacare, this seat was held by Democrats for 30 years."

A pre-general election report for several of North Dakota's candidates was due earlier this week, but did not appear online for many major-party candidates, in what appeared to be processing delays. All candidates' reports either appeared online or were provided directly by the campaign with a note on when the records were filed. Though Daniel Tick, a campaign staff member for Glassheim, said the campaign had missed the deadline, he said the report had been mailed Friday morning and provided a copy to the Herald.

Jack Seaman, the Libertarian candidate for the House in North Dakota, reported $2,420 in total contributions as of the end of September. An FEC listing for Robert Marquette, the Libertarian candidate for Senate, did not appear online.

Related Topics: KEVIN CRAMERNORTH DAKOTA
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