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Commentary: Jaeger helped by a strong Democratic challenger, mystery candidate joins House race

columnist Rob Port

Some interesting notes from the world of North Dakota politics as the 2018 political cycle begins in earnest.

Many political observers have been telling me that incumbent Secretary of State Al Jaeger may be helped by the news that Fargo Democrat Josh Boschee has announced a campaign for the office.

Jaeger is widely seen as having become less efficient and effective at his job.

He's been in office for a long, long time. He was first elected in 1992, the same year Bill Clinton was elected to his first term in office and Jay Leno took over The Tonight Show.

Jaeger will have been in office for 22 years by the end of his current term. He'll have been in office for 26 years if he wins a new four-year term.

Mandan resident Will Gardner has announced a campaign challenging Jaeger for the NDGOP's nomination, and many Republicans I've spoken to seemed amenable to a fresh face in that race.

Gardner's chances are probably diminished, though, by a strong challenge from Boschee. While our state's thoroughly marginalized Democratic party routinely puts unserious placeholder candidates into these statewide races, Boschee doesn't fit that bill. He's demonstrated in his campaigns for the state House in District 44 that he works hard and raises a lot of money.

Boschee is someone to be taken seriously, in other words, which may make Republicans hesitant to trust their nomination to a campaign neophyte like Gardner. The rebuttal to the argument about Jaeger having overstayed his welcome in statewide office is that he's a known entity to voters.

Incumbency and name recognition count for a lot in North Dakota. Still, can that overcome what's likely to be an aggressive challenge from Boschee?

It's a tough choice for the NDGOP.

Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to figure out who Tiffany Abentroth is. She has filed a statement of candidacy with the FEC, identifying herself as a Republican candidate for the U.S. House, but I haven't been able to find a Republican in North Dakota who knows her.

Her filing lists a post office box in Hillsboro as her campaign's address. The treasurer and custodian of records is one Alan Denz Jr. of Virginia.

Mr. Denz emailed me a two-page packet of information about the candidate, and promised an interview after an official campaign announcement. Apparently Abentroth is a former Marine. According to the packet, she feels Congressman Cramer has "done his best" but that it's time for a "fresh perspective."

Is this a serious challenge? A vanity campaign?

I'm looking forward to learning more about Abentroth, but as things stand someone totally unknown to North Dakota's Republicans is a long shot to unseat someone with Cramer's level of support in the state.