MINOT, N.D. — One of the keys to Gov. Doug Burgum's political success is that it's so blindingly obvious that he loves North Dakota.
He's also a multi-millionaire who is unafraid of spending lots of his own money on campaigns but, believe it or not, money isn't the deciding factor in political competitions.
If it was, Heidi Heitkamp, who spent over $24 million on her unsuccessful 2018 campaign, would still be in the U.S. Senate instead of Kevin Cramer, who spent just over $6 million.
Burgum's appeal, the thing which propelled him to victory in 2016 with more than 76% of the vote, is that he's a "North Dakota patriot," as Cramer put it to me during a conversation we had in the 2016 cycle.
He's an absolute nerd about it, promoting this avuncular and heartfelt concern for North Dakotans, and that matters.
The opposite of this, a palpable if mostly unacknowledged disdain for North Dakota, is an obstacle for Democrats who want to win elections here.
It's not just that the national Democratic party cares little for North Dakota, prioritizing instead the demands of their mostly urban and coastal political base, though local Democrats could no doubt do better without that particular albatross around their necks.
It's not even that local Democratic candidates seem incapable of prioritizing issues which matter to North Dakota voters (in 2016 not a single statewide Democratic candidate got even 30% of the vote).
It's that rank-and-file liberals in North Dakota seem to be embarrassed to live here.
Recently, I was watching a debate in my hometown of Minot over whether or not to institute a city recycling program. The divide on the issue wasn't strictly ideological (some right-of-center people support recycling and vice versa), but for the most part, the public hearing featured local left-wing activists talking about ashamed and embarrassed they are to live in a city that doesn't have a recycling program.
Speaker after speaker came to the mic and talked about how they wish Minot could be more enlightened like, say, Seattle.
The attitude struck me. It's the same one on display, routinely, during legislative sessions in our state, when Republican lawmakers stake out some traditionally conservative position on, say, a social issue while our Democratic friends go on a campaign of eye rolls and sarcasm.
You could probably think of similar examples from your community.
It's something more than a mere disagreement over policy or social mores or governing philosophy.
You get the sense that Democrats here, and the people who vote for them, think North Dakota is an unsophisticated backwater not enlightened enough to embrace progressive policies.
That is hubristic, and not how you make progress in politics.
Note that I'm not objecting to liberal Democrats promoting liberal policies. I'm pointing out that North Dakota's Democrats try to win elections, and policy debates, from behind a thick cloud of sanctimonious smug, and it inhibits their ability to connect with North Dakota voters.
If Democrats want to win over more North Dakota voters, they should first try to find what it is they love about North Dakota and then approach their campaigns from that perspective.
I doubt very much that Democrats are open to advice from someone like me, and I'm admittedly loathe to help liberals win elected office, but I think they'd find more success with that approach than what they're currently doing.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.