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Port: Could Cara Mund, yet another celebrity candidate, really win in North Dakota?

I'm just not seeing a constituency of North Dakota voters that Mund could appeal to that's large enough to lead her to victory. But, again, that's assuming that she's running to win, and not as a way to keep her celebrity alive post-Miss America.

Cara Mund speaks at a news conference in Williston during her reign as Miss America.
Cara Mund speaks at a news conference in Williston during her reign as Miss America.
Forum News Service file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — Remember when Kid Rock running for president was a thing?

The Detroit rap-rocker flirted with a presidential bid for a while, and the news media gleefully served up will-he-or-won't-he reporting for the celebrity-obsessed American public, because pageviews.

Ultimately, he did us all a favor and kept his day job.

It's not an uncommon story. Meryl Streep. Matthew McConaughey. Warren Beatty. Dwayne Johnson. Oprah. Alec Baldwin. They've all enjoyed flirting with runs for public office, and I'm sure you could add quite a few names to the list as well.

And, heck, plenty of celebrities actually have run, too, though with little success. Donald Trump leveraged his reality television stardom into one of the ugliest tenures in the White House in American history. Comedian Al Franken's run in the U.S. Senate ended in disgrace.

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Yet, despite this dubious track record, we keep getting more celebrity candidates. Dr. Oz is trying to win a seat in the Senate in Pennsylvania. Football star Herschel Walker is seeking the same office in Georgia. Now Cara Mund, a North Dakota beauty queen who reigned for a time as Miss America, is running for Congress.

She's in the process of gathering the signatures needed to appear on North Dakota's November ballot as an independent. If successful, she'll face off against Republican incumbent Rep. Kelly Armstrong, and Democratic-NPL challenger Mark Haugen.

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She's very young, just 28 years old, and so it shouldn't surprise us that her resume is thin. There's the beauty queen stuff, sure. She also interned for Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican. She's a Harvard graduate, and she made some headlines during the heights of the #MeToo movement, wearing black to the 2018 State of the Union address, and ripping the Miss America organization over the alleged mistreatment of pageant winners at the end of her one-year reign.

There's some substance there.

Does this add up to a resume worthy of serving in Congress? On her LinkedIn page , Mund lists being honored as "one of five women who changed North Dakota history," and upon reading that I couldn't help but ask, "how?"

I know it's fashionable to be cynical and think that any old idiot can serve in that office, but that sort of attitude is why we elect so many idiots in the first place. Resumes should matter, and I'm not seeing much in Mund's accomplishments that commend her to the office.

Where is the business experience? Where is the track record of public service beyond the sort of rote charity and raising-of-awareness stuff beauty queens do? Where are the meaningful accomplishments in the area of public policy?

Name recognition for success as a beauty queen is all well and good, I suppose, and it will garner her a lot of media attention, all the more so because North Dakota's political races between dominant Republicans and indolent Democrats are a bore.

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Still, having a good story isn't the same thing as being a good leader.

Mund has a lot to prove. All the more so because she's a celebrity candidate. In a better sort of world, a celebrity would have even more to prove than a more traditional candidate. In addition to good ideas and competence, they should show us that they have public service in mind, and not mere enhancement of their fame.

Congressman Kelly Armstrong
Congressman Kelly Armstrong addresses the North Dakota Republican Party's 2022 state convention in Bismarck on April 2, 2022.
Photo by Kyle Martin

As a matter of practical politics, I'm trying to imagine what a path to victory looks like for Mund. She hasn't done herself any favors by getting involved so late in the campaign season. She's only giving North Dakotans a few months to get to know her.

Mund is also going to have to get used to a different sort of scrutiny from the public. The coverage you get as Miss America is not the same sort of coverage you get as a candidate for Congress.

Or, at least, it shouldn't be.

What issues will she campaign on? Many political observers I've spoken to expect her to campaign as pro-choice, and I suppose that makes a degree of sense. Improbably, both the Republican and Democratic-NPL candidates already in the race are pro-life.

Haugen, specifically, has faced some blowback from his own party over his pro-life views. A district chairman for the Democratic-NPL attempted to get a resolution passed last month that would have pulled the party's support from him.

Mund, if she campaigns as pro-choice, would offer an option on a hot-button issue that could grab a lot of attention.

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But can a pro-choice candidate win on the statewide ballot? I'm not so sure.

4G1A1065.jpg
Mark Haugen, a student advisor at the University of Mary in Bismarck, announces his candidacy for U.S. House of Representatives at the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party's state convention in Minot on Saturday, March 26, 2022.
Kyle Martin / The Forum

And is abortion the only thing North Dakotans are going to cast their ballots for? What about issues related to our state's most important industries, which are energy and agriculture? When she was reigning as Miss America, Mund criticized America's withdrawal from the Paris Accord , but that move was very popular here in North Dakota, where those accords were a looming disaster for our state's economy.

Will Mund be the sort of defender of American industry that North Dakotans have been voting for year after year? If that's how she wants to portray herself, one of the first things her campaign will have to do is walk back that previous statement.

If Mund tries to run to the left of Armstrong, she's just going to end up splitting North Dakota's already tiny left-of-center vote with Haugen. I suppose she could also try to go ultra-MAGA, and run to Armstrong's right as an even more ardent Trump supporter, but that seems unlikely.

I'm just not seeing a constituency of North Dakota voters that Mund could appeal to that's large enough to lead her to victory.

But, again, that's assuming that she's running to win, and not as a way to keep her celebrity alive post-Miss America.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Mund will spend the coming months blowing our minds, showing us a platform of ideas and policies that are pertinent and appealing.

One way or the other, we're going to find out.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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