What The Hell Just Happened?

Some random observations on yesterday’s election.


Nobody—not me, not you, not Doug Burgum—could have predicted that outcome. Some predicted a Burgum win. Not me, although I had this nagging feeling every time I saw Ed on TV that maybe, just maybe, it could happen. But too many times I have predicted an election outcome because I wanted that outcome, not because I really believed it could happen.

So I cast my vote, and finally, I voted for a winning candidate in a Governor’s race. And I had to vote for a Republican to make that happen. Although that is not new. The last two times I voted for a winning candidate in a Governor’s race were in 1996 and 1992. Both for a Republican—Ed Schafer.

Name Change

I heard a rumor Doug was at the Cass County Courthouse this morning, filing papers to change his first name from “Conservative” back to “Doug.” I’m guessing you won’t hear that tag any more this year.

Whither the Democrats?

More than 113,000 voters cast ballots in the Republican Governor’s race yesterday, a new record, as far as I can tell. When Kevin Cramer beat Brian Kalk for Congress in the 2012 primary, a shade over 100,000 ballots were cast.  Generally, somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 Republicans vote in Primary Elections in North Dakota.

Fewer than 18,000 voters cast ballots in the Democratic-NPL column yesterday, a difference between Republicans and Democrats of almost 100,000. Wow. I’ve been around for a lot of elections, and I’ve never seen a disparity like that.

In the last three presidential year Primaries, Democrats got 57,000 votes in 2012, 43,000 in 2008 and 40,000 in 2004. This year it was under 20,000. Not that Primary Election numbers translate into much in the fall. In 2006, Democrats actually got more votes than Republicans in the Primary, even without any contested races on the ballot, but didn’t pick up a single statewide office in the fall, their only win being the re-election of Roger Johnson as Agriculture Commissioner.

So, what happened to all the Democrats this year? Go back and read the first paragraph of this section.


Democrats did not win the election for Doug Burgum. They just made the margin bigger. Burgum worked harder and spent more money. Stenehjem may have been a little lackadaisical. He may also have some medical issues he’s not talking about. He came off as old and lethargic on TV, as opposed to the natural Energizer Bunny personality of Burgum.

A Good Closer Wins Games

And then, like any good baseball team, Team Burgum brought in a powerful closer, the best closer in North Dakota, Ed Schafer, the only public figure who actually has even more energy than Doug Burgum.

Bottom line is this: Burgum won by 20 per cent. I think the combination of Democrats voting in the Republican column and Ed Schafer’s endorsement on TV accounted for half of that difference. Take away those two things, taking away 10 per cent from Burgum and giving it to Stenehjem, and you have a dead heat.


Still, Stenehjem should not have even been in a dead heat. My wife hit upon the real reason for Burgum’s win—he picked up on the Donald Trump theme of throwing out the establishment. And it worked. Like it or not, there’s a mood out there, even in the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders used it as well, although Sanders did not have an Ed Schafer to close his campaign. So the guy who’s never been a politician turned out to be the best politician.

Lawyers Should Stick To Lawyering

And so, like so the two Attorneys General who preceded him, Wayne Stenehjem has failed in his attempt to make the walk across the Great Hall to the Governor’s office. Nick Spaeth tried it in 1992. Heidi Heitkamp in 2000. I wrote here last fall that North Dakotans just don’t like lawyers as their Governors, and if anyone wants to know why a whole bunch of Democrats voted in the Republican column for Doug Burgum, read that blog—there are indeed a lot of people upset with some of the things he’s done as Attorney General. They weren’t really voting for Doug Burgum—they were voting against Wayne Stenehjem.

Harms’ Revenge

Credit also Robert Harms. From what I could tell, Harms was Burgum’s key political advisor. He brought a lot of savvy to the race, having served as Schafer’s consigliere for eight years, and the two of them, along with Kevin Cramer, built a political machine much like the Democrats had for most of 30 years before they came along. Harms got unceremoniously bounced from his job as state Republican Party chairman last year. This was sweet revenge.


What’s clear right now is there is chaos in the North Dakota Republican Party. A lot of lines were crossed in this campaign that haven’t been crossed before. Burgum was openly critical of the entire party leadership and its elected officials, both the Legislative and Executive branches. It was what he had to do to win. The party retaliated, even to the point of running ads on the radio paid for by the Party itself, featuring the Party chairman, Kelly Armstrong. That’s probably unprecedented–the Party running ads against one of its own, especially one who has given tens of thousands of dollars to that Party. There’s gonna be some hard healing to do.

Another WTF?

One of the things that made me giggle a bit is the fact that all those Republican voters decided to support keeping North Dakota’s anti-corporation farm laws intact. What’s up with that?

Wayne’s Future

I pointed out the other day that now that Burgum is the nominee for Governor, Stenehjem is still Attorney General, and they’ll have to serve together. Burgum said some pretty mean stuff about Stenehjem—as mean as I’ve seen in a North Dakota campaign. And now they have to work together. Don’t be surprised if Stenehjem finds himself a friendly Republican law firm and puts an end to his 40-year career in government, rather than have to work with the man who discredited him to the tune of a couple million dollars of negative television.

Final Advice

We never will know how much Burgum’s win cost him, but even two or three million dollars is still pocket change for him.  What we learned this week is that when Doug Burgum sets out to do something, get out of his way. He’s going to do it. He has the smarts, the skills, the drive and energy, and the money to get stuff done.  Never bet against Doug Burgum. And never, ever, bet against Ed Schafer. I’m kind of eager to see what role Ed plays from here on out, and what the two of them get done.

13 thoughts on “What The Hell Just Happened?

  1. Jim I like final advice

    We never will know how much Burgum’s win cost him, but even two or three million dollars is still pocket change for him. I’m also kind of interested to see what role Ed plays from here on out

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I held my nose, voted on the Republican ballot, and marked the oval for Burgum. But, let us not forget that he he ran a redneck pivoted campaign to win the Republican base. Let’s see if he can “pivot” to a new “narrative” for the general election. Who is the real Burgum? We shall see…


  3. I agree that Burgum benefited from the anti-establishment fervor that spawned the Tea Party and Trump, more than any other factor.


  4. When the supreme court made all political offices for sale it was only natural they would be purchased. Republicans are going nuts seeing The Donald and now Doug buying their pet pony. Packing the Supreme court with lickspittles backfired. Did they learn anything?


  5. Excellent commentary.

    Of course it was the anti-establishment vote. Burke has it right too.

    The Burgum win was greater than I though possible. If you look at the anti-corporate farm issue, that too is telling.

    For us Democrats, this makes the Nov. election even more difficult. With a pending Republican national landslide and the final defeat of Hillary, here in ND, the hill just got steeper.

    For some candidate’s, to distance themselves from the DNC and their willing servants here, will not be too tough. That is more than merely pragmatic politics. The need for dramatic change in the ND Dem’s has been obvious for many years. It makes campaigning that much tough not to mention “money”, the dominate factor today.

    No matter what the elite’s believe, the Democratic party is the only real hope to be, once again, the party of the people. If we rediscover our principles, the change to build a better government will begin. For some of us, I am confident, that our efforts have begun to take form.


  6. I would like to vote for a real Democrat. The sell outs we now have like Heidi hurt any effort for a real Democratic Party in the state. Democrats who pander to the red necks do no service to anyone. Heidi panders on guns, and the energy industry. Thanks to people like Heidi we have no real choice. All we can vote for is Republicans or Republican Light. Just like beer Republican light has fewer calories, but it is still beer. Conrad sold out health care the Democratic Party in North Dakota let Heidi sell out gun control. There is no Democratic party in North Dakota because of the milk toast candidates the Party nourishes. Trump showed that people want some real fire in a campaign. People want something to happen. Nothing will ever happen but tax breaks for the rich in North Dakota as long as we have Democrats pandering to the gun nuts, and the Rush Limbaugh crowd.


  7. i, too, held my nose and voted burgum. Or maybe it was a vote to get Stenehjem out of the race. AG, Gov, and Ag Sec along with Helms have turned western North Dakota into their cess pool. Kissing Big Oil Ass all the way to some off shore account. What is with the million and a half dollar home Gov has in Florida where he spends most of his time. Are there no rules about being in the state? i doubt it was his magnificent farming practices that paid for that FL abode.

    And why must western ND folks fight tooth and nail for the clean air, water, and land promised in the mission statement for the ND Health Dept. Seems to me that whole mess is up to one thing. That is dump all the “you know what” you can in western ND.

    Most all of them figure we out here are in Montana anyhow. Until Big Oil rolled over us, the Gov and the rest didn’t know we existed, then Big Oil, then wow, this is really part of ND. Now with the down turn, i expect we are again Montana.

    Well, i was so proud of ND on Wednesday! Got rid of Stenehjem, defeated corporate farming. i guess if that passed, Big Oil would be buying western ND. Let’s see what name could they give to the new “state”. Oh, Oklahoma North, or Maybe North Texas?

    Or maybe just Cess Pool of the Bakken!

    i live on SS, but i scraped together fifty bucks and sent it to Burgum early on. i figured i wanted a dog in this fight!


  8. Adam Hamm will have to join Wayne at the “Republican law firm,” since he’ll be out of a job. His bet on being appointed AG after Wayne got elected didn’t pan out too well . . .


  9. Dorothy stating that maybe she cast her vote to see Stenejhem gone is exactly my feelings. I’m a fourth generation North Dakotan from a republican family. I really wasn’t interested in politics until I saw the corruption Stenejhem had already brought to our state. Nobody pays attention, but Stenejhem is the furthest from an example of a Old school North Dakota Republican. Look back on how much money he dumped into feminist driven organizations. When it comes down to it, he’s anti men’s rights….. I believe we need victim services. But these domestic violence and trafficking organizations don’t see close to the amount of victims compared to the money dumped into them. Most of it is spent on “Bringing Awareness” trips…. Or in other words, vacations. God knows what these women do to make him an embezzlement money tree……

    And let’s not even get started on him letting BCI turn into a bunch of crooked rogue cops…… Every time they can’t explain why someone is murdered. Wayne just says “nothing to see here…..BCI acted accordingly…”. Well a lynch mob on one of those agents doorsteps would be North Dakota citizens acting accordingly. I pray he never holds any type of office in North Dakota ever again….. Bergum winning the candidate spot was one of the most important events in ND government in a long time….

    Whoever wins……..please clean up Wayne and Dalrymple’s mess…..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s