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Port: Let's dispel some myths about the alleged success of North Dakota's independent candidates

Supporters of independent candidates Rick Becker and Cara Mund, who both lost their races by landslide margins on election day, are clinging to the idea that these two are rising stars in North Dakota politics. The vote totals say otherwise.

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Independent challenger Cara Mund debates North Dakota US House Republican Incumbent Kelly Armstrong on Oct. 11 at Memorial Union on the NDSU campus.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — The weeks after Election Day is when politicos on the losing side of the vote spin the outcome for various self-serving reasons.

Success has a thousand fathers, the saying goes, but failure is an orphan.

Nobody likes to be a loser.

In North Dakota, much of the spin is around two independent candidates who, despite losing in landslides, want credit for a job well done.

Independent candidate Cara Mund, beaten by nearly 25 percentage points, is one example. Many of the state's political commentators want to put the "rising star" label on her ( that's Crosby Journal columnist Steve Andrist's term ) despite an objectively pedestrian performance at the ballot box.

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Mund bristles when anyone suggests that she's a stealth Democrat, even though it was Democrats who fueled her campaign, and her vote totals were about what we've come to expect from a modern Democratic-NPL candidate in North Dakota.

She won in Cass County, Rolette County and Sioux County, but those are the areas where Democrats typically win.

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Mund got just over 37% of the vote — that's almost 40%, her apologists cry! — but that's still a landslide loss.

She actually got about 10,000 fewer votes than 2020 Democratic-NPL House candidate Zach Raknerud, despite raising and spending significantly more money. Sure, turnout was down from 2020 to 2022, but still. Raknerud spent a paltry $26,000 on his campaign, a fraction of what "rising star" Mund did.

She also significantly underperformed the Democratic-NPL candidates from 2018 (Mac Schneider) and 2014 (George Sinner). She did outperform the 2016 candidate, Chase Iron Eyes, but he is a multiple-felon and anti-pipeline activist Democrats put on the statewide ballot amid the violence of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

That feat is not exactly a political resume builder.

Mund's status as a celebrity candidate who eschewed a party label may have tickled the fancy of certain commentators and politicos, but the vote totals show a candidate who performed about as well as a typical Democrat on North Dakota's statewide ballot.

Does anyone think the star is rising for the moribund Democratic-NPL?

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The supporters of Rick Becker also need a wake-up call.

Some of them have deployed the Trump trope about supposed election fraud to explain their candidate's loss not just to incumbent Sen, John Hoeven, but also Katrina Christiansen, the second-worst performing statewide candidate on the Democratic-NPL ticket.

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State Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck

It wasn't fraud.

It wasn't a "purchased election" either, which is another talking point among deluded Becker backers.

Hoeven actually ran the cheapest U.S. Senate campaign in the nation .

Becker didn't win a single county in the state. In most of them, he took third. He lost Burleigh County, his home county, by nearly 30 percentage points. Even in western North Dakota, which is supposedly Becker country, Hoeven consistently received over 60%, and sometimes 70%, of the vote by county.

Am I piling on these candidates after they were already stung by voters on Election Day?

Maybe, but political myth-making doesn't do anyone any good. It behooves us to live in reality.

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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