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COMMENTARY: With convention looming, North Dakota Democrats are still short candidates

columnist Rob Port

MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota's Democrats have an unusually strong slate of candidates for federal office this cycle.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, the only Democrat to win on the statewide ballot in a decade, is running for re-election.

In 2016 Democrats embarrassed themselves by running Chase Iron Eyes for the U.S. House. Iron Eyes, a convicted felon who is facing more felony charges stemming from his participation in the often violent and unlawful protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, was an absolute flop garnering less than 24 percent of the vote.

But in 2018 the Democrats have three candidates competing for the House nomination including state Senator John Grabinger, former state Rep. Ben Hanson, and former Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider.

For the state level offices, however, the Democrats are continuing to struggle with finding candidates.

Their statewide endorsing convention is this weekend, and Democrats have announced candidates for just three of six of the executive branch offices on the ballot.

One of the three looks to be formidable. State Rep. Josh Boschee is running to be Secretary of State. He's known to be an aggressive campaigner, and a prolific fundraiser, and will be facing a Republican incumbent, Al Jaeger, who even many Republicans believe is well past his prime.

Less formidable are former state party chairwoman Kylie Oversen and Washburn resident Casey Buchmann who are running for Tax Commissioner and the Public Service Commission, respectively.

Democrats I've spoken to said the Oversen candidacy was more a graceful exit from party leadership after a disastrous 2016 election cycle than serious effort to unseat Republican Ryan Rauschenberger.

The incumbent has some problems — he took weeks off during the 2014 election cycle to seek treatment for alcohol addiction and enters this election cycle with a DUI conviction on his record from late last year — but so far Oversen seems intent on campaigning against Republican-backed state income tax cuts.

Can a Democrat campaigning for tax hikes really win in North Dakota?

That seems deeply unlikely.

As for Buchmann, he's a well-meaning if largely unknown candidate representing the left-wing Nonpartisan League faction of the Democratic party. He'll probably not get a lot of traction, even if he is running against Republican Brian Kroshus who will be on the ballot for the first time after being appointed by Governor Doug Burgum.

Democrats have yet to find candidates for Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, or to challenge Randy Christmann for the second PSC seat which will be on the ballot this year.

The Democrats say they're energized, and ready to recover from 2016's electoral bloodbath which saw not a single one of their statewide candidates get to 30 percent of the vote while their already tiny minorities in the Legislature shrank further.

The proof, though, is in the pudding. It's hard to see a party as energized when they can't recruit enough candidates to fill all of the statewide races before their convention.