MATTERS AT HAND: As election nears, politics continues to fascinate
Today is the Sunday before the election, and so this column just about has to be about the campaign -- and it will be. But is there really anything more to say? About North Dakota's U.S. Senate race, certainly not. About the House race, perhaps. ...
Today is the Sunday before the election, and so this column just about has to be about the campaign -- and it will be.
But is there really anything more to say?
About North Dakota's U.S. Senate race, certainly not.
About the House race, perhaps.
And about the future, quite a lot.
The Senate race is all over but the counting.
Tracy Potter's campaign against John Hoeven has been interesting -- it included visits to 53 county courthouses, the last one Saturday in Grand Forks.
But Potter has failed to dent Hoeven's enormous popularity. Probably, Potter's vote total will reflect the number of hardcore, "yellow dog" Democrats in the state.
The House race has been extraordinary in many respects.
The candidates have been awfully nasty toward each other, and their tone has blurred the core of each of their messages. At bottom, this is a campaign about what a representative in Congress is supposed to do.
This became clear last week, when U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad told voters in a television ad that Rick Berg, the Republican candidate, would need a decade to achieve the influence in Washington that Rep. Earl Pomeroy now wields.
In other words, to Democrats, the job is to work in Washington on behalf of the state.
Berg and the Republicans see the job differently, judging from the ads. Theirs have attacked Pomeroy's voting record, implying that the most important job of a member of the House is to vote "the North Dakota way."
Of course, the job description includes both duties -- but the campaign calls on North Dakotans to determine which is more important.
For decades, the answer has been working for the state. North Dakotans have valued seniority and service. This has kept Democrats in office from a state that has a plurality of Republican voters -- by a dozen percentage points or more.
In a normal year, North Dakotans doubtless would have chosen this option and re-elected Congressman Pomeroy.
But this is not a normal year.
U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, a master at bringing federal funds to North Dakota, decided early on that he wouldn't see re-election. The impact on the campaign was profound. Democrats didn't find an effective candidate to lead their ticket, thus exposing Pomeroy to the political winds.
And the winds are blowing strongly against the Democrats. It hardly matters who is the Republican candidate for Congress.
Late polls suggest the race is up for grabs -- but of course in this campaign, polls have been less about measuring public opinion than about trying to make it.
It seems likely that the Republican tide will engulf North Dakota, along with much of the rest of the nation. It's even possible that there won't be a Democrat left standing among the statewide candidates.
Likely, there will be victims among legislative candidates, too, including some locally.
Both nationally and in North Dakota, therefore, the election is likely to bring Republicans greater power -- and put them at greater risk in 2012.
In 2011, the Democratic ticket likely will be led by U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad. There's hopeful speculation among Republicans that Conrad might retire to avoid defeat, but Democratic chances may be better in 2012 than in 2010, if the economy improves and if Republicans don't coalesce around an attractive presidential candidate.
The only Republican incumbent at the top of the ticket will be Rick Berg, assuming he wins Tuesday. If he doesn't, Democrats will have a second big name, Earl Pomeroy, on the ticket.
John Hoeven's name won't be on the Republican ticket as a candidate for governor. He'll be in the U.S. Senate.
Thus, Democrats will have opportunity for a comeback in 2012 -- if they are able to reorganize and recruit candidates.
That's far from certain, of course.
Since 1992, when they last held the governorship, Democrats have been largely interested in federal offices, and they've pretty well failed to develop strong state and local candidates. They lack a bench, in other words.
Republicans have a bench, largely through Hoeven's appointment of promising young Republicans whenever an opportunity arose. A couple of them are on this week's ballot.
Still, Democratic chances may improve behind the Republican tide.
So, the pendulum swings.
And so, politics continue to fascinate.
Jacobs is editor and publisher of the Herald.