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Challenger needs to get serious

The Democratic-NPL candidate for North Dakota’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives has a shot at unseating the one-term Republican incumbent, but only if George B. Sinner gets serious about his campaign. His “No Work, No Pay” stunt earlier this week, in which he contends Congressman Kevin Cramer should not be paid if he misses floor votes, is not serious.

Sinner noted that Cramer has missed several votes. Therefore, the challenger alleges, he’s not doing his job and should forfeit a portion of his congressional pay. The squishy footing of the charge is that a congressman is only at work when voting in the House chamber. That’s nonsense. A congressman is always on the job, whether voting on the floor, meeting with constituents in his D.C. office, visiting with North Dakotans back home or sitting in a committee hearing room in the U.S. Capitol. Anyone familiar with Cramer’s weekly schedule knows he puts in long days that often stretch into nights.

If Sinner were serious, he would be examining the quality, not the quantity, of Cramer’s votes. North Dakotans would not care a whit if the congressman missed a vote congratulating the Pickle Queen in Podunk, Miss. They would be concerned if Cramer blew off a vote on a farm bill. They might give him a pass if he missed a few of mostly meaningless procedural votes that are on the House agenda every day. They would not be so forgiving if he was among the obstructionists blocking a highway funding bill.

A couple of private internal polls show that at this point in the campaign (and it’s very early), Sinner is within striking distance of Cramer. In the last reporting cycle, Sinner raised more money than Cramer, suggesting a lot of contributors believe the challenger has a shot. But Cramer has yet to crank up his campaign. The incumbent, having been in either an appointed or elected public sector job nearly all his adult life, is an energetic and savvy campaigner.

As the great American philosopher Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” However, if the Sinner campaign goes for sound bite over substance, as it did Tuesday, it’s over.