Seismic shift happening in ND politics

A seismic shift is taking place in the North Dakota party convention nominating system with the fragmentation of power and resources and candidates bypassing the structured nominating system and going directly to the polls.

While North Dakota history is full of erratic appeals to primary elections, the present fracture was led by Senator Kevin Cramer and Governor Doug Burgum, both of whom took their cases to the public after rejection by conventions. The precedent has been established.

By electing Cramer to lesser offices, the Republican Party gave him the visibility to successfully challenge the convention nominee. It was a matter of ingratitude.

There is little question that Governor Burgum bought his gubernatorial office by throwing gobs of personal money to defeat Attorney General Wayne Stenejhem, who was the party favorite.

Bypassing conventions

With a bitter fight now occurring between the moderate Republicans and the right wing, a number of candidates for state and legislative offices have announced that they will not seek convention endorsements but will bypass conventions and go straight to primaries.

In brutal skirmishes, the new hard line state GOP leadership has orchestrated the defeat of incumbent legislators who have carried the conservative flag for years. Ideology has driven common sense to the wall.

Seasoned political observers should not have been surprised because the shift of the solid Democratic South to a solid Republican South is a lesson in American political history.

Racial primaries

When liberal firebrands like Hubert Humphrey in 1948 started championing a greater role for the Black community, a bigoted South instantly saw race as the issue and closed ranks to ward off growth of Negro power. Primaries were used to keep Blacks out of the polls.

As the movement away from conventions grows, more political fights will be settled in primaries and that will change the dynamics of campaigns. North Dakota politics will become a free-for-all.

Conventions may continue to meet to hear the persistent in both parties offer a litany of campaign promises to bind the nominees to party principles. All the while, candidates are running their own polls to find the hot issues while disregarding the rhetoric of party platforms.

Conventions meaningless

Conventions will become meaningless, replaced by a different paradigm of political action.

Party conventions require candidates to prove their qualifications for candidacies, often requiring credentials in local districts. There will be no sifting in the primary system. Any incompetent with a German or Scandinavian name still has the edge. Otherwise, the bored rich will find politics a new form of polo to play.

Party conventions have made it possible for candidates to come forward even though they don’t have the personal resources of wealthy candidates who have the edge. There will be fewer opportunities for the unfunded aspirants.

Party conventions reduce the chaos that pervades politics by pumping up loyalties from convention to convention.

Well-heeled candidates

Leaving the less fortunate behind, well-heeled candidates will dominate politics in the primary age. Governor Burgum has already demonstrated the power of money in a variety of ways, including his own election.

Defenders of the primary revolution will say: “Let the people decide.” That isn’t what they mean. They are really saying: “The primary is my best shot because we can use money to brainwash the public with mass media.”

The shift from conventions to primaries means a changing of the guard. Moneyed politicians will take center stage. Different manipulators will make the decisions. When the elite take charge, the system will become less democratic.


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