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Many undecided for N.D. tax commissioner

With some uncertainty about the incumbent’s campaign, more than two-fifths of North Dakotans are undecided on whom to support in the state tax commissioner race, according to new poll results.

The poll, commissioned by Forum Communications Co. and conducted by the University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration, found 41 percent of respondents were undecided between Republican incumbent Ryan Rauschenberger, Democratic challenger Jason Astrup and Libertarian candidate Anthony Mangnall. Rauschenberger led with 34 percent, followed by Astrup at 20 percent and Mangnall at 5 percent.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple appointed Rauschenberger to tax commissioner in November 2013 to replace outgoing Tax Commissioner Cory Fong.

Robert Wood, an associate professor of political science at UND who helped conduct the poll, said normally a Republican incumbent would be a shoo-in for the low-profile tax commissioner’s race.

“There are more undecided than were present in the other races because it’s related directly to the personal challenges of the incumbent — of Rauschenberger — that his personal struggles, personal challenges and personal life have pushed a lot of people that would have normally been solidly in the Republican camp into the undecideds,” Wood said. “… If it was the challenger that had had their truck totaled and had run into these problems, it would have just been the end of their campaign.”

Rauschenberger made headlines in early September when his 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe was rolled in Mandan by Jesse Larson, 22, of Mandan. Larson was charged with DUI and reckless driving. Rauschenberger said he met Larson in alcohol treatment. A police report revealed Rauchenberger had rear-ended another vehicle with the Tahoe 6 1/2 hours prior to Larson’s accident with the vehicle; however, the responding officer did not test for drugs or alcohol at the scene as neither appeared to be contributing factors in the accident.

Rauschenberger took an unpaid leave of absence from the tax commissioner’s office to seek additional treatment for alcohol abuse a few days after the accident and returned to his post last week.

“His approach has been really forthright,” Wood said, referring to Rauschenberger’s public acknowledgement of his alcohol abuse. “… that’s the very best way to handle a crisis: Get out in front of it, tell it in your own way, own up to it, take responsibility for it and basically ask the voters for forgiveness.”

Polling was conducted from Sept. 26 through Oct. 3, before Rauschenberger returned to work.

Poll results are based on telephone interviews of 505 randomly selected adults living in North Dakota and likely to vote Nov. 4. In order to provide a probability-based representative sample, the poll included landline and cellular phone numbers. The sample yields a 95 percent confidence level of a plus or minus 5 percent margin of error.

Divided among political affiliation, respondents in the poll were 38 percent Republicans, 27 percent Independents, 19 percent Democrats, 4 percent Libertarians and 13 percent declined to say or were not sure.

Among their own parties, when asked if the election were held today, which candidate they would support, 68 percent of Republicans favored Rauschenberger and 24 percent were undecided. Among Democrats 58 percent favored Astrup and 38 percent were undecided, and 18 percent of Libertarians supported Mangnall and 43 percent were undecided.

Sun reporter David Luessen can be reached at (701) 952-8455 or by email at dluessen@jamestownsun.com

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