Jacobs: One for the ages? Not 2018
Blogger Rob Port committed hyperbole last week. He asserted that "the 2018 Senate race is going to be one for the ages in North Dakota." This was the concluding sentence of a post on July 5. The headline was "NDGOP recruiting SBHE President Kathy Neset for possible Senate run."
A couple of notes on this headline: "NDGOP" is the North Dakota Republican Party or some of its members. "SBHE" is the State Board of Higher Education. The board doesn't have a president; Neset gave up the chair of the board at the end of June.
As for hyperbole, which is the accusation against Port, the first definition an online search offered was this: "exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken seriously." As synonyms, the search suggested "overstatement, magnification, embroidery, embellishment, excess, overkill, rhetoric."
The context here is Port's prognostication about the 2018 race for the U.S. Senate. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, holds the seat. Defeating her is one of Port's goals—or perhaps it's only a dream. She's a good senator, he conceded in a profile about him printed over the weekend in the Herald and published in other Forum Company newspapers. She just belongs to the wrong party.
The profile, by Grand Forks Herald reporter Sam Easter, elevated Port's profile. The Herald's front-page Saturday had two pictures of him and the story took up much of the space devoted to news in the paper's first section. Port is also a fixture of Forum Company's Area Voices and he's a radio talk show host.
This is getting to be pretty serious cred.
Port deserves to be taken seriously.
"Rob Port is a very important and meaningful part of the media landscape," I told Easter when he asked me questions about Port and his influence.
Such character witnesses don't clear him of charges of hyperbole, because the 2018 election is unlikely to be one for the ages — except perhaps in the amount of money spent. Heitkamp is almost certain to be the Democratic candidate, and as Port correctly pointed out in his blog, she has raised "a mountain of money."
Republicans, on the other hand, are having trouble finding a candidate, not because there are not volunteers but because the national party — if not the state affiliate — understands that Heitkamp is a formidable candidate. Consider her record: In 2012, she won a narrow victory a dozen years after her name had last appeared on a statewide ballot. Her opponent, Rick Berg, had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives a mere two years previously.
Berg is on the list of potential Republican candidates in 2018. So is Kevin Cramer, who followed Berg into the U.S. House. State Sen. Tom Campbell of Grafton is mentioned.
Cramer probably could have the party's endorsement and nomination. His calculus must include a couple of imponderables, though. One is the fate of health care legislation. He voted for the Republican plan in the House, and he's been pretty vocal in support of the "repeal and replace" position that the House staked out. Another is the appeal of President Trump. Trump carried North Dakota handily, and Cramer has been sycophantic in his support. That could be good for him, but maybe not. As for Berg and Campbell, Port reported, with admirable candor, "Most Republicans I talk to seem pretty underwhelmed."
Now there's Neset. Port is well sourced, so there's no reason to doubt that some Republicans are considering her. It's true, as Port asserts in his blog, that Neset has an impressive biography. She's not a North Dakotan bred and born, but she did adopt the state. That may resonate on television. She's a geologist, and she's built a successful oil field business, creating more possible resonance.
Neset's public appearances have been mostly enthusiastic appraisals of the oil business in North Dakota made to mostly appreciative audiences. She lacks government experience, except for her service on the Board of Higher Education. That's not likely to be an asset in today's political climate in North Dakota.
This hardly amounts to an epic contest and so Port must be considered guilty of hyperbole, until we apply the second half of the definition: "Not meant to be taken seriously."
At this point, that's the best approach to speculation about the 2018 election cycle. It may indeed be epic — if small government conservatives succeed in increasing their numbers in the Legislature, for example, or if a ballot initiative at last succeeds in ending the state's blue laws.
With a strong incumbent Democrat and weak Republican challenges, however, the Senate race isn't likely to be "one for the ages" — unless (to repeat) someone decides to invest big money in an effort to buy the seat.
Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Herald. His column is published Tuesdays.