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Port: Let's talk about why Cara Mund's campaign is sputtering

Mund, who got into this race late, who has zero track record outside of campaign-trail statements to illustrate how she might vote in Congress, is trying to be all things to all people, and in politics, that's an excellent way to make most people not like you.

cara_mund_sigs.jpg
Cara Mund, an independent candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, turns in signatures to get on the ballot at the North Dakota Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — On Aug. 6, former Miss America Cara Mund announced a campaign for North Dakota's at-large U.S. House seat as a pro-choice independent making abortion her center plank.

The news made a big splash. Some of North Dakota's top Democrats were so enthused by Mund's entry into the race that they leaned on their party's endorsed candidate , Mark Haugen, to drop out.

Now, 52 days later, and with absentee voting set to commence in two days, there's little evidence that Mund's campaign is catching on.

Per a recent profile of Mund's candidacy published by the Associated Press , she hasn't exactly seen a windfall of financial support.

"She’s raised about $20,000 since jumping into the race this summer," the AP reports, and while neither candidate has yet filed their third-quarter campaign finance reports with the FEC (they're due in early October), Armstrong ended the second quarter with over $1.4 million raised for the cycle, and over $773,000 in cash on hand.

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There hasn't been any polling made public in this race, but I know various political interests have been in the field with surveys, and it seems to me that if any of those surveys were showing Mund as a competitive alternative to the incumbent, the challenger would be able to paint a more rosy picture of her finances.

Why hasn't Mund done better, despite her celebrity status as a former Miss America, and the abortion issue, her top issue, making headlines?
There are a number of reasons.

While abortion is a topic many voters feel passionately about, it's not exactly a top issue when it comes to their priorities. Again, we don't have publicly available North Dakota polling, but according to a national survey from the Pew Foundation released in late August , the issue of abortion came in behind other issues like the economy, gun policies, violent crime, health care, voting policies, education, and Supreme Court appointments.

The abortion issue gets a lot of attention, but members of Congress delve into many other policy areas which rank higher on the priority list for voters. Even voters inclined to agree with Mund on abortion might prefer the incumbent because of other issues.

It hasn't helped that Mund has done little to flesh out her policy positions since launching her campaign. The issues section of her campaign website doesn't have much content , and her social media messaging seems to consist mostly of commemorations of her Harvard law degree and her pageant wins. When she's not complaining about her critics, that is.

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Mund would be a much more interesting candidate if she ran an authentic campaign, that reflected who she truly is, rather than trying to perpetrate this fraud.

Here's another challenge: Mund's approach to her campaign and the issues has put her in something of an uncanny valley. Per the AP, Mund has said she "likely would caucus with Republicans if elected," and she's made much of her internship with Republican Sen. John Hoeven, but it may be hard for voters in this very Republican state to square those right-of-center bona fides with the fact that prominent Democrats like former Congressman Earl Pomeroy, and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and left-wing talk radio host Joel Heitkamp, are so enthusiastic about her campaign.

Are we supposed to believe those people, in a heated midterm election, with control of Congress hanging in the balance, are lining up behind a candidate who would caucus with Republicans? In a close election, Mund could be the tie-breaker between a Republican and Democratic majority in the House.

Can you blame Republican-leaning voters for not buying that Mund is as right-of-center as she's tried to portray herself?

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Can you blame Democratic-leaning voters who are skeptical about lining up behind someone who might help Republicans control the speaker's chair?

Mund, who got into this race late, who has zero track record outside of campaign-trail statements to illustrate how she might vote in Congress, is trying to be all things to all people, and in politics, that's an excellent way to make most people not like you.

Congressman Kelly Armstrong
Congressman Kelly Armstrong addresses the North Dakota Republican Party's 2022 state convention in Bismarck on April 2, 2022.
Photo by Kyle Martin

Another complication is that whatever support Mund might have garnered from national left-of-center interests, now that North Dakota Democrats cleared their candidate out of her way, is being triaged to other races. This was already looking to be a good election year for Republicans, and while the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade has clouded the picture somewhat, there are concerns that the public polling available at the national level is significantly understating support for Republican candidates .

It was always going to be a heavy lift for Mund to bring in left-of-center money as an independent candidate (and she's not likely to get any right-of-center money while taking on a popular Republican incumbent), and that lift gets heavier with Democrats needing to invest in candidates their party actually nominated to hold onto their House majority.

Even if Mund got a big influx of cash today, it still takes time to deploy that money in ways that could help her make up ground against Armstrong, and, again, voting commences this week.

Mund will likely get around a third of the vote, which is the typical total for a Democratic candidate, and maybe a few percentage points more as she peels pro-choice Republicans away from Armstrong, and that's about it.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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