MINOT, N.D. — The dawn of another election cycle is upon us, and that means North Dakota Democrats have embarked on their biannual scramble to find warm bodies to put on the ballot.
The political parties hold local conventions for each legislative district. Sometimes, particularly in urban areas, several districts will hold one big event where each local chapter goes about their business of selecting district leadership, choosing delegates to the statewide conventions and endorsing district candidates for office.
The statewide conventions are a bigger version of the local meetings. They, too, attend to party business such as choosing members of national committees and endorsing statewide candidates and choosing delegates to the national conventions.
The candidate endorsements, be they local or statewide, aren't final. Any candidate who loses the party's support is free to run for the party's nomination anyway on the June ballot. All that's needed is some signatures on a petition.
Doug Burgum did that in 2016. He came in third place at the NDGOP's state convention that year, but in June, he dominated Wayne Stenehjem, who won at the convention.
But I digress.
While the NDGOP has a bit of a problem in that the outcome of their endorsing conventions isn't always lining up with the outcomes on the primary ballot, North Dakota Democrats have a problem even finding candidates.
Let's look at District 28 as a representative example of this struggle. The local party just held their local convention, and it didn't go swimmingly.
"Democratic-NPL District 28 Chairman Dustin Peyer said six people met on Saturday in Lincoln for the district party's convention," the Bismarck Tribune reported. "District 28 Democrats have no candidates for legislative races, which Peyer attributed to a lack of enthusiasm and party organization."
Peyer says he's about 90% sure the local party will have no candidate by April 6 deadline.
District 28 Republicans, meanwhile, had about 170 attendees at their local convention, which also featured three candidates (two incumbents and a challenger) for the district's two seats in the state House.
The incumbents won; the challenger says he'll take his case to the June ballot.
The difference in participation, however, is what I want to note for this post. The Republicans had 170 people at their convention and the Democrats had a half dozen.
I'm sure some of you are ready to tell me that the plight of District 28 Democrats is not uniform for all Democrats in North Dakota, and you're right. Some areas of the state do manage to elect some Democrats to office, yet even at the state level, the Democrats struggle to find candidates.
The NDGOP usually enjoys well over 1,000 delegates at their state conventions. The Democrats usually get less than half the Republican count.
Republicans will field incumbents in every statewide election this cycle but one (incumbent Treasurer Kelly Schmidt isn't running for another term), and there are already two Republicans who have announced for that office, with more possible.
Democrats, meanwhile, have just one announced candidate for statewide office so far. Dickinson-based veterinarian Shelley Lenz announced her intention to take on incumbent Gov. Doug Burgum this cycle. Right after making that announcement, she left the country for Nicaragua for a week and a half. At the same time, her party held local conventions around the state, leaving one to wonder how much effort she's going to put into her campaign.
Lenz seems like a lovely person. She also doesn't look at all prepared to take on a skilled and well-funded campaigner like Burgum.
The world is run by those who show up, and North Dakota Democrats seem intent on mostly conceding the point.
Part of their problem is there aren't that many Democrats in North Dakota.
Another factor is their party is disorganized and demoralized and not even taking itself all that seriously.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.