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Mike Jacobs: Former Miss America Cara Mund mixes it up in North Dakota politics

Cara Mund drew attention as Miss America 2018. Her very public challenge of the pageant’s hierarchy led to significant changes in the organization, including the ouster of its leadership.

Mike Jacobs
Mike Jacobs
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Cara Mund might be the most interesting development in North Dakota politics since … well, since Rick Becker was elected to the state House of Representatives 10 years ago.

These two have little in common, to be sure, although both have been in the beauty business, Mund as Miss America and Becker as a plastic surgeon.

Becker is leaving elected office. Mund is a newcomer mounting a campaign for the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She’s running as an independent.

She’s a woman. He’s a man.

She pro-choice. He’s an opportunist on the issue.

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Despite all of this, the pair have something in common. Both are disruptors set on upsetting the political balance in the state. Becker’s so-called “Bastiat Caucus” changed the complexion of the state Legislature. Mund’s candidacy puts abortion rights front and center in the 2022 House campaign.

Mund is the only pro-choice candidate for the House seat. Kelly Armstrong, the incumbent, is a Republican who follows the party line on abortion rights. The Democrats nominated Mark Haugen, who said Mund will be running “to the left” of him.

So does Mund have a chance of winning? The odds are long, of course. Armstrong won his House seat by large margins. In 2018, he got 60% of votes cast. In 2020 he won re-election with 69% of votes cast.

Any independent candidacy is a long shot, of course, but Mund could run ahead of Democrat Haugen because she’s the pro-choice candidate. Choice is a decisive issue for many voters. We don’t know how many voters, of course, but we’re about to find that out. Mund’s candidacy will focus attention on the issue.

Of course, she has to get her name on the ballot. She’ll need 1,000 signatures by Sept. 6 to secure a place on the ballot as an independent candidate. That’s not a big hurdle.

The bigger challenge is funding a campaign. Mund has two advantages in that regard. First, running in North Dakota is less expensive than running in most other states. Second, she’s a candidate who may be able to tap resources nationally.

Mund drew attention as Miss America 2018. Her very public challenge of the pageant’s hierarchy led to significant changes in the organization, including the ouster of its leadership.

She also has political experience. She worked in the office of U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican. That means Republicans might be comfortable voting for her.

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Democrats might be comfortable voting for her, too. Haugen is a credible candidate. He comes from a prominent Democratic family and he’s been active in the party, running for state treasurer in 2020. He was the leading Democratic vote-getter, with 35% of votes cast. His appeal will be to hardcore Democrats.

Haugen is wrong to assert that Mund is running “to the left” on abortion. The issue doesn’t fit comfortably on the political spectrum. It’s only recently become a partisan issue, as moralists have taken over the Republican Party.

Plus, it’s hard to gauge public opinion about abortion rights. Activists on both sides are vocal, of course. But it’s far from clear what the voters think about the issue.

In 2014, North Dakotans decisively rejected the “personhood amendment” discussed in last week’s column.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, brought an outpouring of support for the state’s only abortion clinic. More than $1 million was raised in a fortnight to help the Red River Women’s Health Clinic relocate from Fargo to Moorhead, Minn., just across the river.

This suggests there’s support for abortion rights in North Dakota, and money to spend on the issue.

So, you’ve got a smart, articulate and attractive candidate. Her tenure as Miss America can only have honed her “meet-and-greet” skills. Plus it proved her mettle. Her work for Sen. Hoeven must have provided insight into the political system. Plus she has a law degree from Harvard University, with honors, no less.

All of that points to a strong campaign.

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She may not win, but she could come in second.

And even if she doesn’t, she will have stirred things up in North Dakota politics.

Like Becker she’s a disruptor.

Becker’s Bastiat Caucus has come to dominate Republican politics.

Mund has chosen a different course. She aims to be an independent voice and a strong voice for choice.

Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.

Opinion by Mike Jacobs
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"We have polled three times since Cara has gotten in the race. We have used three different polling companies to ensure we are getting the most diverse/accurate information," Armstrong told me of his surveys. "We don't do it for a press release. We do it so that we know how to move forward with our campaign. The only way to do that well is if we can trust the data."
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