The losers in an attempt to wrest the Republican endorsement from incumbent North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring are leaders of the North Dakota Farm Bureau. Winners, in addition to Goehring, are Republican legislators who should be less intimidated by the bureau’s perceived political clout and demonstrated bully tactics.
Farm Bureau leaders got their seed caps handed to them Sunday when their answer to Goehring — farmer, rancher and nurse Judy Estenson of Warwick — was soundly defeated on the first ballot for the ag commissioner endorsement. It wasn’t close. The bureau’s ill-conceived and nasty campaign against Goerhing gained little traction among Republican convention delegates assembled in Minot.
To say the Farm Bureau shot itself in the foot is an understatement. As recently as a month ago, bureau leaders were crowing they had gathered support among convention delegates and were sure Estenson would prevail. In addition to shooting themselves in the political foot Sunday, leaders of the bureau’s campaign have had the other foot in their collective mouth for months.
Once the lopsided vote was tallied, and Estenson made a gracious concession speech, it appeared everyone was smiley and forgiving. Don’t believe it for a minute. Egos are bruised. The in-the-family threat to a popular incumbent, who will face a formidable Democratic opponent in former state Sen. Ryan Taylor, was an unnecessary and potentially damaging stunt, according Republican insiders. Worse, the issues the bureau raised regarding Goehring’s policies and his office behavior will be used by the Taylor campaign. And they won’t have to make it up. Democrats can merely repeat the words the Farm Bureau and its allies used against the commissioner. It’s an ironic political scenario in which the Farm Bureau wrote a portion of the script for Taylor’s campaign. How smart was that?
Finally, if Goehring wins re-election, his door will be less open to the current leadership of the bureau. If Taylor wins, the bureau will be stuck with a commissioner who owes them no allegiance at all.
As the effective practice of politics goes, leaders of the North Dakota Farm Bureau have showcased a real-life lesson in how not to do it.