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Candidates react to tax commissioner poll

Two out of three candidates in the North Dakota tax commissioner’s race had positive reactions to a recent poll that showed more respondents were undecided than in support of any of them. The third questioned the poll’s methodology.

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.

Astrup said the poll results were radically different from the other polls he’s seen and accused the Forum of trying to persuade voters toward its endorsed candidates.

“I probably would agree there is a large chunk of undecided voters in my race. … The poll was conducted before I started doing any media advertising and before my opponent was even back on the campaign trail,” he said, referring to Rauschenberger’s leave of absence to seek treatment for alcohol abuse.

Astrup said the focus of the three-week remainder of his campaign will be voters’ forums and fundraising.

“I’ll gladly sit down and talk with anyone about the issues,” he said. “That’s what I’m here to do — get the issues out to people.”

North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party Chairman Bob Valeu released a statement Tuesday saying there are “glaring problems” with the poll.

“For starters, pollsters who have never done political polling conducted the poll, and frankly it shows,” Valeu said in the release. “This is not a poll of likely voters; the pollsters used a 1-10 scale to determine the likelihood of a person voting and then considered someone who rated a 5 out of 10 as a likely voter, which is little better than a coin toss. The idea that someone who is as likely as getting tails on a coin toss is a likely voter is laughable. In addition, the poll undersampled Democrats and voters age 66 and older, while oversampling voters under age 30.”

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 said his 14-point lead over the nearest challenger was a show of support for how well the state tax department has been administered in the past.

“People are happy with the way that the Legislature and the governor proposed meaningful income and property tax (relief),” he said. “… They’re proposing to extend, and I’m proposing to extend property tax relief but also enhance property tax relief and provide more property tax relief, and I think people responded to that. We provide great customer service here at the tax department, and I think people recognize that.”

Rauschenberger said his campaign was going on a full-court press to get his campaign message out.

“I’m working closely with the Legislature and the governor working up to this (legislative) session, making sure that we continue sound tax policy in North Dakota, but also that we’re effectively administering the tax laws in North Dakota,” he said.

Robert Wood, an associate professor of political science at UND who helped conduct the poll, said Rauschenberger’s “event” last month was responsible for the large amount of undecided voters, but third-party candidate Mangnall had a different theory on why so many had yet to make up their mind.

“I think it speaks to how most people are fed up with Democrats and Republicans, and most people are used to voting strategically, meaning they don’t vote their heart,” Mangnall said, “because they think that voting their heart will lead to the other guy winning, the guy they really, really don’t want.”

Mangnall said he would be focusing the lion’s share of his remaining campaign efforts on Jack Seaman, Libertarian candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, who Mangnall feels has a strong chance of winning. Mangnall said he believes most North Dakotans are sick of partisan politics and “most people at their core are Libertarians.”

“When it comes to it and when you get to that ballot, just vote your heart and amazing things can happen,” he said.

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

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