N.D. Democrats not giving up on governor’s race after Vogel opts out, Oversen says party has ‘a few folks in mind,’ will have candidate
BISMARCK - North Dakota Democrats aren't giving up on the governor's race in November despite Thursday's surprising announcement by former state agriculture commissioner Sarah Vogel that she will not run for office, party chairwoman Kylie Oversen...
BISMARCK – North Dakota Democrats aren’t giving up on the governor’s race in November despite Thursday’s surprising announcement by former state agriculture commissioner Sarah Vogel that she will not run for office, party chairwoman Kylie Oversen said Friday.
“I would certainly not say that we’ve given up hope. We will stand behind and fully support our candidate when that time comes,” she said.
Vogel announced in early November that she was mulling a run for governor, after U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp decided not to run. Vogel formed an exploratory committee later that month and had recently held “Seed Money for Sarah” fundraisers in Grand Forks and Bismarck, with the latter attended by Heitkamp.
Vogel also had a campaign website and a Facebook page, which had a post Wednesday stating, “Our numbers continue to grow, invite your friends to join us here or on Twitter and Instagram.”
“I think a lot of people were surprised,” state Republican Party chairman Kelly Armstrong said of Vogel’s decision. “With the press and Facebook and things like that, it looked like she was really in.”
In an emailed statement Thursday night, Vogel said that she could better serve the state in the private sector as an attorney and member of several boards. She told Forum News Service that she “realized that I am in fact not a good fit for the demands of a modern campaign.”
“Certainly we’re disappointed by the decision but understand and respect that she took her time in going through this process,” said Oversen, a state representative from Grand Forks.
Democrats will now reopen talks with potential candidates who had expressed interest in the race before Vogel’s involvement, Oversen said.
“We have a few people in mind that we had started conversations with last year, and when Sarah’s name surfaced, understandingly they took a step back,” she said.
While Republicans have three candidates seeking the GOP nod for governor and campaigning at district conventions that began last week, Dem-NPL district conventions begin Feb. 16 without a single candidate announced for statewide office.
“I don’t feel like we’re behind yet,” Oversen said. “The biggest part will be in fundraising, and when you’re competing against three well-known candidates who have a lot of backing, obviously that’s a challenge.” But she said the party’s candidate will have a lot of grassroots support across the state.
Republicans have controlled the governor’s office since Ed Schafer’s first win in 1992. Armstrong, a state senator from Dickinson, is confident about their chances in November, with what he called three “dynamic” gubernatorial hopefuls in Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Fargo businessman and entrepreneur Doug Burgum and state Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck.
“Obviously I like our position a lot better than theirs,” he said.
Burgum has said he doesn’t expect to win the GOP endorsement and will run in the June primary anyway. During his Jan. 14 campaign kickoff at GOP headquarters in Bismarck, he said, “We all know in this room that whoever wins the Republican primary is going to be the next governor.”
But Armstrong said he’s not taking the race for granted.
“Everybody else can say that all they want. I will not buy into that argument at all. Until the second Wednesday in November, we’re going full-steam ahead,” he said.
Oversen said Democrats have a few statewide candidates getting ready to announce, and while Vogel’s decision won’t change their minds, “we will re-evaluate some timelines and how we roll out.”
“Our focus from day one has been on legislative races, so we’ve been working really hard in that arena and will continue to do that,” she said.