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Jacobs: Presidential candidates suddenly love North Dakota

GRAND FORKS -- Hodgepodge. Miscellany. Roundup.Call it what you like. It's what I'm dishing up this morning.Presidential politics: Wonder of wonders, North Dakota has burst on to the national political scene.Yes, this happened earlier, when there...

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GRAND FORKS -- Hodgepodge. Miscellany. Roundup.
Call it what you like. It’s what I’m dishing up this morning.
Presidential politics: Wonder of wonders, North Dakota has burst on to the national political scene.
Yes, this happened earlier, when there was a flurry of interest in the state’s Republican state convention. It drew Ted Cruz, who was then still a candidate. That was back in April.
May has already delivered one candidate, Bernie Sanders. He hit three of the state’s cities, with scheduled appearances in Fargo and Bismarck and a surprise - should we say a cameo - in Grand Forks, where his wife, Jane Sanders, was the headliner.
This week brings a ranking surrogate, Bill Clinton, husband of Hillary. He’ll speak Friday in Fargo. Later in the month, we get Donald Trump.
The presumptive Republican nominee will speak at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck.
What brings us this candidate largesse?
Trump no longer needs delegates. He’s got the prize in hand, pretty much. But the petroleum conference offers him a bully pulpit where he may articulate how his energy policy can help “make America great again.”
For the Democrats, the calculation is different.
Quite simply, it is delegates. North Dakota has some - only a few - but a national convention majority is built a single vote at a time. As the polls indicate a closer and closer race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Sanders’ chances of upsetting the Clinton bandwagon presumably increase - especially if the specter of a Trump presidency scares some superdelegates into supporting Sanders.
Bill Clinton’s role is to help keep that from happening, by preserving every delegate possible for Hillary, his wife.
Gubernatorial politics: We learned this week that Doug Burgum’s rich friends are willing to underwrite his campaign for governor. Bill Gates, the Microsoft mogul who bought out Burgum’s tech company, making Burgum rich enough to finance his own campaign, sent $100,000 Burgum’s way. That’s more than 10 percent of Burgum’s total campaign fund.
Wayne Stenehjem, his only viable opponent, has drawn half a million in campaign contributions, significantly short of Burgum’s haul. But Stenehjem’s campaign has tried to turn this to their campaign’s advantage. Ninety percent of their money came from North Dakotans, they said. Seventy percent of Burgum’s money comes from out of state.
History suggests that it doesn’t matter.
For two decades, Democratic candidates were financed by out-of-state contributors, and for two decades, Republican objections didn’t sway voters. Candidates with names such as Dorgan, Conrad and Pomeroy won consistently.
Money is the grease in politics. You’re always better off when you have more than the other fella.
Ballot measure: North Dakotans will offer judgment on the state’s anti-corporation farming law in the primary election. The Legislature passed a bill allowing corporations to own as much as a section of land - 640 acres - in order to raise hogs and cattle. It’s on the ballot as a referred measure. A “yes” vote sustains the Legislature.
Opponents of corporate farming see a threat to the state’s long-standing ban on corporations in agriculture, and perhaps it is.Whether the ban has been effective in saving family farms is in doubt, though. Supporters of the change argue that incorporation makes it easier to manage assets and - crucially - to transfer them to succeeding generations.
The results should be instructive. They’ll show whether North Dakotans still cling to the romance of the family farm, the milieu that produced so many of us.
The measure also could be a factor in the contest between Burgum and Stenehjem. It gives Democrats - traditionally opponents of corporation farming - an excuse to go to the polls. Some of them may decide that they want to vote in the gubernatorial primary, because it is almost certainly the election that will pick the state’s next governor.
Could enough of them vote for Burgum to make a difference? The law allows it, so long as a voter supports candidates of only one party.
For the record: I neglected the word “gubernatorial” in last week’s column, when I said Republicans hadn’t had a contested primary since the dawn of the Media Age.
There have been plenty of convention squabbles and even a primary race for U.S. Congress four years ago. But no primary fights about who should be governor - not since Bob McCarney quit the field after he lost in 1972. He had beaten the Republican-endorsed candidate in ‘68 and lost in ‘64. But he never did make it to the governor’s chair.
Instead, his contribution to North Dakota history is as the so-called “Referral King,” who gave the governor - William Guy - and the Legislature fits for more than a decade. He was a businessman without any political experience. He came to Bismarck broke, played baseball for the Bismarck Capitols and went into the car business, where he made enough money to outfit himself in garish ‘60s style and finance his own political campaigns. In 1976 and 1980, the Republican endorsees faced primary opponents. Neither broke 30 percent of the vote - kind of the threshold for seriousness.
Jacobs a retired editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald, which is part of Forum News Service. Readers can reach him at mjacobs@gfherald.com .

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