Is a reinvigorated NPL what North Dakota Democrats need to win?

MINOT — Allow me to quantify the depths of failure the North Dakota Democratic-NPL party has achieved in recent election cycles.

Republicans currently have a 38 to 9 majority in the state Senate and a 81 to 13 majority in the state House of Representatives.

Democrats hold not a single statewide elected office in state government, and hold just one of three seats in North Dakota’s delegation to Congress.

The last Democrat not named Heidi Heitkamp to win on the statewide ballot in North Dakota was Earl Pomeroy who was elected to his final term in the U.S. House in 2008, nearly a decade ago.

In the last two election cycles no Democrat on the statewide ballot has managed to earn even 40 percent of the vote. Last year, during the 2016 election, no statewide Democratic candidate earned even 30 percent of the vote.

One needn’t be a political scientist to understand that Democrats have to change something in their approach. Because what they’re doing now isn’t working.

A group of progressives think they have the right idea. They want to take over the Nonpartisan League (the NPL part of the state Democratic party’s name) and use with an aim toward appealing toward a broader base of North Dakota voters. Including some who don’t like thinking of themselves as Democrats.

“They don’t like the Democratic name,” Mark Haugen told me in a recent interview. “Maybe they’ll like the NPL.”

Haugen is the interim chairman of a committee seeking to take control of the NPL brand.

The NPL merged with the Democratic party back in the 1950’s, and hasn’t elected a controlling committee since the 1960’s. Haugen and his fellow progressives are asking columnist and former Lt. Governor Lloyd Omdahl, the last secretary of the NPL, to transfer the control to them.

Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but a larger question looms.

Haugen and his cohorts represent the left wing of the Democratic party. They think focus on progressive issues of the sort raised by Senator, and erstwhile Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders is the key to winning voters back to Democrats.

Are they right? I’m not so sure. Moderate voters abandoned Democrats in droves last cycle.

Democrats saw a nearly 40 percent decline in voters casting ballots for their slate of candidates in the June 2016 primary compared to the June 2012 vote. Republicans, meanwhile, saw a 24 percent increase.

The ratio of Republican to Democratic voters on every June ballot from 2000 to 2014 has ranged between 1 and 2, but in 2016 shot up to 5 Republican votes for every one Democratic vote.

Will a reinvigorated NPL on the Democratic party’s left flank lure these moderates back to Democrats?

Haugen seems to think so. That seems deeply unlikely to this observer. North Dakota Democrats have been moved by voters to the margins of governance because they moved too far left. Moving further left seems a recipe for more marginalization.

Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

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