By Andrew Alexis Varvel
Will our congressperson be Cara Mund or Kelly Armstrong?
Back 75 years ago in 1947, American radio stations played the hit song “Feudin' and Fightin'.” Its refrain went, “Feudin' a fussin' and a-fightin'. Sometimes it gets to be excitin'.”
That sounds increasingly like North Dakota politics this year!
North Dakota's races for US House and US Senate have been tumultuous, as weird as they are exciting, and with momentous reverberations for a long time to come. North Dakota's political deck is now getting reshuffled.
The House race features two Republicans squaring off, neither of whom appeal to cultural conservatives or economic socialists.
Mark Haugen is out. He is a long time party stalwart of the Democratic-NPL who is as loyal as they come, an old-school Nonpartisan League Democrat with a strong blue collar power base. He was the most popular Democrat during North Dakota's 2020 election. The Democratic-NPL's management made a special effort last spring to recruit him into running for Congress, so he consented. Now, he is out. According to Mark Haugen, he got put under heavy pressure from a faction of Democrats to leave the race, including phone calls from Earl Pomeroy and Kent Conrad. He saw no path to victory without his party's support.
So, he withdrew.
Mark Haugen is pro-life, a fact that he has never hidden. His politics reflect Quentin Burdick's winning formula from half a century ago. Some people don't realize that Senator Burdick was a social conservative who supported a federal constitutional
amendment to ban flag burning. With the Democratic-NPL's management unceremoniously dumping Mark Haugen, it sends a message throughout America that pro-life candidates – and pro-life voters – aren't welcome in the Democratic Party.
Cara Mund is North Dakota's pro-choice candidate for US House. No less so than George W. Bush, Cara Mund is well versed in frat house politics as the president of the Kappa Delta sorority at Brown University. As North Dakota's first Miss America, she promoted regime change at the Miss America Organization. She recently graduated Cum Laude from Harvard Law School. Cara Mund is charismatic and she has excellent people skills.
Cara Mund's Sorority Republicanism harkens back to a time half a century ago when conservative Republicans could be pro choice and pro-environment, and when the Republican Party was more about the country club than talk radio. She has plenty in common with Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. She is unmatched in snob appeal. Her pro-choice stance is crystal clear. Cara Mund appeals strongly to people who are pro-life on the outside and pro-choice on the inside. Yet, the stench of the Democratic-NPL's court intrigue may yet blow into her face.
Congressman Kelly Armstrong's vote for gay marriage is costing him political support from cultural conservatives. So, LGBTQ+ activists will face a stark choice between voting for someone who has bucked his own party on their behalf, or taking a chance on Cara Mund. If North Dakota's congressional race becomes a contest between Kelly Armstrong and Cara Mund, he will probably win. But not if Rob Port hijacks his campaign.
Rob Port has become North Dakota's premier gossip columnist, a twenty-first century heir of Walter Winchell with all of the journalistic ethics that one might expect from Walter Winchell. That is to say, none. He has also become the court jester of North Dakota's Republican Party establishment, wielding his poisoned pen against anyone who challenges its hegemony.
If North Dakota's congressional race becomes a de facto contest between Rob Port and Cara Mund, she will probably win. He has become the perfect foil for her political ambitions, because he can't restrain himself from lashing out against her. Against the drumbeat of a hate machine which spews sneers, misogyny, and contempt, few people have ever been better prepared to turn that machine into a major campaign issue than a poised young lady with Cara's Mund's prodigious talent. When the North Dakota Republican Party establishment refuses to distance itself from Rob Port, it allows him to define what they stand for. He has become an anchor for the Republican Party, an anchor around its neck. That is how she can win.
Turning to North Dakota's US Senate race, Senator John Hoeven has been around for awhile, with the dead weight of incumbency on his side. There are voters alive today who don't remember any time when he hasn't been either their governor or their US Senator. He is staunchly loyal to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. A pragmatist to his core, nobody should ever mistake John Hoeven for a philosopher king.
Rick Becker, on the other hand, is among the more intellectual Republicans of recent memory. His main claim to fame at the North Dakota Legislature has been leading the Bastiat Caucus, named for an obscure French economic philosopher from the
nineteenth century who preached against socialism and crony capitalism. A plastic surgeon by trade, he seeks to cut waste from government wherever he sees it. And he sees it a lot.
Rick Becker reflects the passion and enthusiasm of the contemporary Republican Party, appealing strongly to libertarians and social conservatives. He relies on a formidable
ground game of energized supporters who regard him as a true champion of Republican values. He may be running as an independent, but he is on record as supporting the entire platform of the North Dakota Republican Party. Rick Becker greatly admires Senator Rand Paul, and hopes to become his wingman. He favors legalizing marijuana, opposes abortion, opposes Critical Race Theory, and supports the Second Amendment. He remarked, “I have an AR-15. Everybody should have an AR-15.”
Rick Becker is supremely confident that Democratic-NPL challenger Katrina Christiansen will have no chance of winning. He sensed Democratic-NPL weakness, which incited him to jump into the race. On Facebook video from August 23, he said, “If I come in as an independent, a conservative independent, and I split that vote in half, the fact that it's more than double the vote than the Democrat gets makes it impossible for the Democrat to get in.”
On Facebook video from August 24, Rick Becker said, “... let's say they get twenty-five percent. John Hoeven and I could split the vote evenly. And then, let's say, I get thirty-eight percent. He gets thirty-seven percent. It beats the twenty-five percent. So we don't need to worry about splitting the vote. ... Not in this case. Not in North Dakota.”
In a normal year, the Democratic-NPL would be treating Rick Becker's comments as a dare. An absolute dare.Yet, the only Democrat who got over one third of the vote in 2020 was Mark Haugen. Now, he's gone.
Katrina Chistiansen is an industrial engineer, inventor, and professor who teaches at the University of Jamestown. She is also a fan of Doctor Who. If anybody could turn a port-a-potty into a time machine, she would probably be the one to do it.
Katrina Christiansen has a path to victory. A slim one.
The Democratic-NPL administrative apparatus is adept at picking fights with Republicans, slamming them for the very secrecy they have been practicing themselves. Not so adept at presenting a positive agenda. When it is so deeply frightened of Rob Port that it will bend its knee to him while he gives them the back of his hand, they won't command much respect. So, there won't be much the state party can do for Katrina Christiansen.
If Katrina Christiansen wins by a fluke, she would be the first Democratic-NPL candidate to win statewide election who started his or her political career during the twenty-first century. Her campaign strategy is high risk, high reward – to campaign as a reliable supporter of President Biden's agenda in a deeply red state. It may work, if he notices her.
Katrina Christiansen could win if national Democrats intervene. With the state party in disarray, outside intervention becomes necessary. It becomes easier for North Dakotans to take her candidacy seriously if national Democrats take her candidacy seriously. If the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee chip in, that could make a difference. If Senator Klobuchar, Senator Tester, and President Biden show up in North Dakota to stand by Katrina Christiansen's side, they would show North Dakota voters that they care about what happens here.
Katrina Christiansen is a pro-choice Democrat, who could mobilize a hidden bloc of 50,000 pro-choice voters to vote for her. They might vote for her, if they realize that she exists.
Given the recent fortunes of North Dakota's Republican Party, 2022 should have been a breakout year for the Democratic-NPL. Yet, Rick Becker and Cara Mund, Republican Party dissidents each, have generated far more enthusiasm.
2022 has been a terrible year for the Democratic-NPL, mainly due to self-inflicted wounds. Rick Becker jumped into the race precisely because he expects Katrina Christiansen to come in third, and now the Democratic-NPL has no congressional candidate at all. If the internal reaction within the Democratic NPL to what has already happened, and will probably happen soon, does not lead to a reckoning and a clean sweep of its administrative staff, there is little reason to believe that its fortunes will improve in the future.
So yes, North Dakota, we are living in interesting times.
September 23rd 2023
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