Jacobs: Burgum campaign makes sense in hindsight

GRAND FORKS -- Doug Burgum's primary election campaign makes a lot more sense in hindsight than it did while it was going on.Just about everybody believed that Burgum had little chance to win the North Dakota Republican primary and that he should...

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Mike Jacobs

GRAND FORKS - Doug Burgum’s primary election campaign makes a lot more sense in hindsight than it did while it was going on.
Just about everybody believed that Burgum had little chance to win the North Dakota Republican primary and that he should have run as an independent.
Burgum clearly didn’t agree, and he turned out to be right.
Burgum didn’t think he needed Democrats to win the Republican endorsement either, even though nearly everybody else thought he was doomed without a significant crossover vote.
Burgum wanted to win as a Republican, and he did.
There is no arithmetic that makes Democratic votes decisive in Burgum’s victory
Not that there haven’t been attempts. In shock at their loss, members of the Republican Insiders Club devised a number of theories that pointed at Democratic mischief making. The most obvious showed that Democrats were a much smaller share of primary votes. That’s interesting. True as well.
The other compared Democratic and Republican participation in a series of primary elections. The ratio of Democrats to Republicans was extraordinarily low. That’s fascinating but irrelevant. And it’s certainly not causative.
In order to believe that either phenomenon was decisive requires that hordes of Republicans did not turn out for their own primary. If they had voted in usual numbers and Democrats had crossed over, the total vote would have been very much larger than it was.
It’s unreasonable to assume that Republicans would ignore their primary, which offered one of the most interesting races in recent state history. Democrats, on the other hand, had little reason to show up - and they didn’t, as the Democratic turnout shows.
Ergo, Democrats didn’t make the difference.
That’s evident from the results, too. About 113,000 votes were cast for governor in the Republican primary. That’s 12,000 more than votes for the race with the next largest turnout, for U.S. senator. John Hoeven was the Republican candidate. Hoeven is immensely popular. His general election victories have eclipsed almost all others on record in the state.
It’s more instructive to look at the votes for the state’s sole member of the U.S. House. Here the candidate was Kevin Cramer, the incumbent. He got about 18,000 votes fewer than were cast in the governor’s race.
Cramer is about as close to the anti-Christ to most North Dakota Democrats as Martin Luther is to most Catholics. Few Democrats would have voted for him,
This, therefore, is probably the best gauge of how many Democrats might have crossed over. Subtract the number from Burgum’s total, and he still wins by 6,000 votes.
The important conclusion is that Democrats did not produce Burgum’s victory, although they may have built his landslide.
All of this explains elements of Burgum’s campaign that seemed confusing, including the parts that alienated Democrats - parts such as attacks on Obamacare and an endorsement of Donald Trump.
Burgum might not have intended to drive Democrats away, but he also didn’t feel the need to appeal to them.
And this explains the campaign’s end game, which relied heavily on an endorsement from Ed Schafer, former governor, former secretary of agriculture and now UND’s interim president. Schafer doesn’t have much appeal to Democrats.
Schafer’s endorsement resonated with Republicans, however. Many of them regard him as the doctor who delivered the oil boom, and with some reason. Schafer cleared away taxes and regulations inimical to the oil industry and made North Dakota uniquely attractive when the Bakken play began.
For the record, Schafer says his endorsement of Burgum didn’t happen the way I suggested it did last week. Instead, he insists it did begin as first reported, as a hint to a blogger that was followed by a remark to the Herald editorial board saying he’d vote for Burgum.
Only then, just 10 days before the election, was the advertising prepared and the blitz unleashed.
It’s another example of how the Burgum campaign was aimed squarely at Republican voters.
This is important because it could influence Republican attitudes toward Burgum. Plenty of members of the Insiders Club suggested that Democrats were responsible. That probably eased their pangs of remorse at the loss of their candidate, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. It also may have justified their desire for revenge.
Revenge was threatened in the wake of the election, though legislative leaders walked back their threats after conciliatory words from the winner.
So a week after the event, it’s clear that Burgum really is a Republican, which his campaign wanted to prove. There were two reasons for this. One is that Republican heritage is important to Burgum personally. Another is that Republican credentials will be critical to his success if he wins the general election and becomes, not just a Republican, nor just a Republican candidate, but the Republican governor of North Dakota.
What that might mean is a topic ripe for speculation.
Maybe next week.
Jacobs is the retired publisher and editor of the Grand Forks Herald, which is part of Forum News Service. He can be reached at .

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