ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

MATTERS AT HAND: Has suspense gone out of N.D. politics?

North Dakota Republicans have snagged a couple of big names for their convention. They've got a couple of endorsement contests. So, it should be a pretty good show. Still, it's hard to imagine that the convention can match the drama of the openin...

North Dakota Republicans have snagged a couple of big names for their convention.

They've got a couple of endorsement contests.

So, it should be a pretty good show.

Still, it's hard to imagine that the convention can match the drama of the opening scenes of this year's political season.

Sen. Byron Dorgan said in January that he wouldn't seek re-election. Within a few days, Gov. John Hoeven said he'd seek the Senate seat.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rep. Earl Pomeroy ran into trouble after his vote in favor of a health care reform bill.

Less dramatically, a succession of Democrats suggested their own candidacies, and Tea Party activists continued to organize.

This is the backdrop against which the Republican convention opens later this week in Grand Forks.

Democrats will hold their convention next week in Fargo.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is the latest addition to the Republican convention schedule. He'll speak Sunday, the closing day.

Adam Jones, the party's executive director, said he doesn't know what Pawlenty will say.

"I assume it will be a very optimistic speech on where Republican leadership can take the country in the next few years," he told Ryan Johnson, who covers state politics for the Herald.

The other headliner is John Thune, a U.S. senator of substance since he defeated then-Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle in the South Dakota contest in 2004.

ADVERTISEMENT

While this may make for riveting rhetoric as far as Republicans are concerned, it won't give the convention must-see status.

Can the endorsement contests provide drama?

Perhaps.

Hoeven faces a challenge from Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect. He'll bring the Tea Party movement's voice into the convention. He won't win the endorsement, but he and his supporters might make some noise -- and some news.

The contest for a candidate to challenge Pomeroy for the state's only U.S. House seat will be the central event of the convention. There are four contenders. Two have a legitimate shot.

Kevin Cramer, a member of the Public Service Commission, is well-known statewide and well-liked among party activists.

But he's lost to Pomeroy twice before.

The other candidate, Rick Berg, has no statewide ballot history, but he's from Fargo, a reservoir of votes that no other area of the state can match.

ADVERTISEMENT

He also has legislative experience, as leader of the Republican caucus in the state House of Representatives. This gives him a base of support among Republican legislators that extends statewide.

It also gives him a voting record. Of course, that can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

At least one legislator appears to be betting on Cramer. Bob Stenehjem, the Republican leader in the state Senate, said last week he's considering running for Cramer's seat on the PSC.

This contest seems to be a toss-up, though. Uncommitted delegates report a flurry of calls from both campaigns -- a sign that neither candidate is certain of success.

Pomeroy is a shoo-in for endorsement at the Democratic convention, which has less potential for drama than the Republican gathering, especially since most potential contenders for the Senate -- believing that Hoeven will win -- have withdrawn.

This leaves state Sen. Tracy Potter alone in the field.

Potter's a smart, inventive legislator who may be able to scratch Hoeven's Teflon coating. This became apparent last week when he challenged the governor's assertion that 40,000 new jobs have been created in North Dakota.

This charge had less resonance than one made by Sorum, who's challenging Hoeven from the right. The governor has avoided engagement in issues, Sorum said, and so voters really don't know where he stands on the big issues of the day.

These criticisms share a theme that could come to dominate the campaign -- that Hoeven is more lucky than good.

Certainly, Hoeven has been lucky -- but he's also an able politician. No one is better at working a crowd, and few are as adept at shaping public policy.

These characteristics have made Hoeven the nation's most popular governor and the odds-on favorite for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

All of this has wrung much of the suspense, and much of the excitement, out of the 2010 political season.

Stay tuned for 2012.

Jacobs is editor and publisher of the Herald.

What To Read Next