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Port: Sandra Sanford, wife of ex-lieutenant governor, may be the culture warrior candidate for NDGOP chair

Sandra Sanford has a history of culture warrior activism, and social media track record that may make her candidacy for party chair, should she pursue it, deeply divisive.

PHOTO: NDGOP Headquarters
The sign for the North Dakota Republican Party headquarters sits along East Boulevard Avenue near the state Capitol in Bismarck.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service file photo

MINOT, N.D. โ€” Next month the North Dakota Republican Party will hold its reorganization event, and the stakes are high.

There is a push by the populist, MAGA-aligned right to take over the state party from the more pragmatic traditional conservatives. The "normies," as I like to call them. It's gotten so bad that former Gov. Ed Schafer couldn't even get elected to a low-level precinct committee in his Fargo-area district.

Schafer, whose optimistic, pro-business, happy-warrior approach to politics was the harbinger of the last 30 years of NDGOP dominance, says this new wave of Trumpy Republicans doesn't want people like him.

The MAGA crowd has been out-organizing the normies for some time now, putting butts in seats at district-level reorganization events and instructing them to vote for MAGA-aligned slates of candidates for party leadership positions. Now they may have elected enough district chairs to unseat the current NDGOP chair, normie-aligned Perrie Schafer.

But who would challenge Schafer?

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Sandra Sanford, wife of former Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, has emerged as a possibility. Sandra Sanford didn't respond to a phone call, email, or social media messages, but Brent Sanford texted me that she's considering a run. "She has been asked by individuals that we both respect," he told me in a text message. "If she decides to announce, she will definitely contact you."

Sandra Sanford is very much aligned with the MAGA culture warriors. She's one of the organizers of a group called North Dakota Can, which advocated for the book bans and anti-trans bills, among other issues, at the recent legislative session. It's also been active in promoting the aforementioned takeovers of local NDGOP districts.

Per her social media posts, she's definitely got some ... unique points of view. Like this Facebook post showing an excerpt from a book called "New World Order" by a conspiracy-monger named A. Ralph Epperson. Epperson's work is the typical stuff about the Masons, etc. Think "The DaVinci Code" or "National Treasure," except scary because he seems to believe it.

The excerpt Sanford chose to tout predicts an evil future in which gay marriage is legal, the government prohibits women from being homemakers, private property ownership is outlawed, and religion is replaced by "worship of man and his mind."

But, in the context of the race to chair the NDGOP, Sanford's zany political views might matter less than what seems to be an acrimonious attitude toward some of the party's top elected officials.

The North Dakota Can Facebook group, where Sanford is an administrator, attacked sitting Republican Congressman Kelly Armstrong for his vote last year codifying federal recognition of same-sex marriage, accusing him of "disrespect of traditional marriage."

The North Dakota Can group also hit Armstrong over his support for Ukraine, promoted former Republican Rick Becker's challenge last cycle to Republican U.S. Senate incumbent John Hoeven, and argued that the Republican National Committee is "as captured and corrupt" as the Democratic National Committee.

On Twitter, Sandra Sanford seemed to endorse a potential primary challenge to Armstrong.

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Should Sanford run for and win the NDGOP's party chair position, part of her job would be to sit on the supposedly "captured and corrupt" Republican National Committee. Her job would be to promote the NDGOP and its candidates, including people like Hoeven and Armstrong.

If the NDGOP's state committee, tasked with choosing the next chair, is faced with a choice between Sanford and Perrie Schafer, can they trust that the former wouldn't be bringing her own agenda to the position?

Again, this is an inflection point for North Dakota's dominant political organization. Can the traditional Republicans, the "normies," who have built the NDGOP's brand over the last 30 years, hold on? Or will they finally be pushed out by Trump-era populists?

All this is flying under the radar of the average North Dakota voter, and yet it's hugely consequential for the future of state politics.

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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