41 Days to Election Day: North Dakota

North Dakota has a full slate of offices to vote on and some questions. As concerns the presidential election, North Dakota has not voted for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Therefore, it is very hard to see how Obama has a chance in this states in 2012. Thus, Romney gets their three electoral votes.

Jack Darymple became Governor when John Hoeven was elected to the Senate in 2010 and he seeks a full term in 2012. His Democratic incumbent will be the minority leader of the state senate, Ryan Taylor. Taylor, a right to life Democrat, has served in the state senate since 2002. In any other year, perhaps Taylor would be a tougher opponent, but Darymple will benefir from the generally good economy in North Dakota due to his two GOP predecessors- Hoeven and Ed Schafer before him- who put into the place the policies that Darymple benefits from today. Taylor sounds like a nice enough chap, but this is not his year.

Kent Conrad’s impending retirement from the Senate created a rare opportunity for the GOP to pick up a seat. Hoeven’s victory in 2010- a foregone conclusion given his popularity as Governor- coupled with Berg’s defeat of Earl Pomeroy in the House race- changed the political dynamic in this state. The trio of Conrad, Dorgan and Pomeroy were the Democratic norm for years. The Pomeroy defeat more than Dorgan’s retirement is what most likely convinced Conrad to retire this year. If he had run, it is likely he would have won even against Berg. Thus, the opening was created for Berg after only two years in the House.

Berg draws former state attorney general and radio personality Heidi Heitkamp as his opponent. Ironically, she correctly read the tea leaves in 2010 and decided against a Senate run against Hoeven and a likely loss. Heitkamp had already lost to Hoeven in the 2000 Governor’s race. Thus far, she is positioning herself as a populist, centrist. For example, she claims that Obamacare needs to be reformed, supports the Keystone pipeline and supports hydraulic fracking. Those last two items would be political suicide in North Dakota if she opposed them.

She has additionally gone into attack mode against Berg’s personal wealth. One of the state’s largest landlords, Goldmark Property Management, is a company that Berg has close ties to although he was never in a management position there. Some Democrats in North Dakota have been wincing at these attacks as she attempts to portray herself as a populist standing up for the middle class.

Both parties are pumping money into this race as Democrats are fighting hard to keep this seat. The RCP average of polls puts Berg up by 5 points although Heitkamp has been gaining ground of late. still, one would have to give this race to Berg if for no other reason than the economic boom times in the state associated with the Republican Party.

In the House race, Kevin Cramer, who lost to Berg in the 2010 Republican primary, will face Pam Gulleson. Cramer is a state Public Services Commissioner adamantly pro-coal and with Tea Party support. Democrats are fighting hard to take this seat back andd have chosen Gulleson, a former state legislator and state director and chief of staff for Dorgan until he retired in 2010. Of particular concern is Gulleson’s fundraising thus far as she has slightly outpaced Cramer. However, take away the PAC money and she trails (only 1% of Cramer’s money is from PACs). This underscores the Democratic Party’s emphasis on the importance of this race. Most likely, Romney’s coat tails and the GOP economic shadow in North Dakota will reach down to this race and propel Cramer to victory.

Like other states, North Dakota has some interesting questions on the ballot now that they have definitively solved the “Fighting Sioux” controversy earlier in the year. For example, they are finally getting around to removing words like “imbecile” from the state constitution, not to mention finally eliminating references to poll taxes.

There is also the question whether to make animal cruelty a class C felony. The Humane Society ranks the state #48 in terms of legislation against cruelty because it lacks felony classification. In the same vein, voters are asked to guarantee that certain modern agricultural practices are legally protected. This may sound a little weird, but agriculture remains North Dakota’s top industry. There are laws that currently protect farming and ranching interests in the states. For example, they are generally shielded from nuisance and noise lawsuits from neighboring property owners. However, this effort is largely in response to California-type laws which have outlawed veal calves and specify how chickens are raised and housed. While California sinks under a mountain of debt, they found the time to establish chicken zoning and population density laws. There are no similar efforts in North Dakota at this time, so this is a proactive attempt to head off these efforts by animal rights activists in the future.

Finally, an anti-smoking group got a smoking ban question on the ballot. Current law in the state bans smoking in most businesses, but allows it in bars and certain designated areas of motels. This law would close those options to smokers. In fact, eight North Dakota cities have banned smoking in bars through local ordinances. This is part and parcel of a concentrated effort in the state to decrease the incidence of smoking in the state. In fact, the ultimate goal is to increase the cigarette tax to $2 a pack. As concerns this proposal, smokers may hem, haw and bitch, but they do adjust. It becomes a problem when they are harassed outside by the anti-smoking groups.

In conclusion: Romney wins North Dakota’s three electoral votes and Darymple is elected Governor. Rick Berg steps up to the Senate while Kevin Cramer takes his place in the House in a close race for both candidates.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads Romney in electoral votes 78-22 while the Senate is tied 10-10. In the House, Democrats lead 49-31 in seats.

Next: Montana

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