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Port: Numbers support Heitkamp defense against Democratic Party faction

By Staff | Jun 2, 2017

We have reached a strange crossroads when I, perhaps one her sharpest critics, feel inspired to come to the defense of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

But here we are.

The North Dakota Democratic Party has been worn down to an angry little nub of left wing “progressives” by one election year catastrophe after another. Now a faction of those liberals, convinced that their party’s problem is that it’s not left wing enough, have turned their ire on Heitkamp.

That would be the Heitkamp who is the only Democrat to win an election on North Dakota’s statewide ballot since Joe the Plumber was a thing.

In 2015, there were Democrats publicly griping about Heitkamp’s propensity for centrist policy making. “It does present a rather interesting dilemma for the party structure that is trying to convince the voters that they should vote for progressives in the state,” former Democratic state party chairman Bob Valeu told a Forum News Service reporter.

During the 2016 election cycle, Heitkamp came under fire from a faction of the state party’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention. This group approved what was described as a “harsh resolution” condemning Heitkamp, saying she was “disrespectful to the people of our great state” for supporting presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

At a reorganization meeting for the state party in Bismarck earlier this year, attendees told me Heitkamp was heckled over a perceived lack of support for single-payer health care.

Yes, heckled. As in people shouting at her from the audience. At an event filled with Democratic party activists from around the state.

This week, Valeu, who is not only a pasty party chair but a long-time political strategist for the Democrats, took to Facebook to signal that he’s apparently cutting ties with Heitkamp.

“This is the final straw for me!” he wrote, linking to a news article about Heitkamp’s comments calling #TheResistance, a left wing effort to undermine the Trump administration, a waste of time.

North Dakota voters are abandoning the Democrats in droves, and the number of cranks like Valeu in the party are a big reason why.

As I pointed out in a previous column, in 2012 Republican candidates on the ballot had a 3-2 advantage over Democrats in terms of cumulative votes. In 2016 Republican candidates got three votes for every one cast for Democrats.

Nor was that a fluke.

Voters in our state seem to be identifying more with Republicans than perhaps any other time in recent history. From 2000 to 2014 the average ratio of Republican to Democratic voters in our state’s June primary elections was about 1.4 in favor of Republicans.

In 2016 that ratio was 5.84.

That means nearly six voters choosing the Republican ballot in the primary election for every one who chose the Democratic ballot.

That’s a situation which is not likely to change in the 2018 cycle unless the state’s Democrats start to move back to the middle.

Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort

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