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Port: It's time for the NDGOP to give up on its local endorsing conventions

For all the griping about the NDGOP not being conservative enough, it has built a 30-year super-majority on the back of pragmatic policy making that appeals to most North Dakota voters. That success is at risk if a small faction of ideologues is allowed to continue using the manipulated outcomes of small conventions to create the appearance that the NDGOP is something it isn't.

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A voter puts her ballot into the drop-box outside of the Cass County Courthouse on June 2.
WDAY photo
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MINOT, N.D. — Whatever the outcome of Tuesday's primary vote, which saw the North Dakota Republican Party's traditionally conservative majority challenged by a cadre of angry, Trump-aligned populists, it's clear the party needs to change the way it endorses candidates.

I'm writing this column for print, which means I'm writing it before Tuesday's results are in, but however those races shake out, the NDGOP needs to consider how it can keep itself from being defined, as North Dakota's dominant political entity, by a small minority of its base.

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Currently, per state law, the process works like this: Local party chapters in the various legislative districts hold conventions to endorse local candidates. Those candidates are then placed on the June primary ballot but can be challenged for the party nomination by anyone who can raise the small number of requisite signatures.

What a small and vocal minority of Trumpy activists have figured out is that the local conventions are easily manipulated. They represent just a few people — often less than 100 — endorsing candidates for the thousands of Republicans in a given legislative district. Those candidates can then present themselves, not inaccurately, as the Republican-endorsed candidates in the primary.

Because it's true. They did receive the party's local convention endorsement. Only, that endorsement often isn't representative of broader Republican sentiments.

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The problem for the NDGOP is that it has a deep interest in its candidates appealing to a much broader swath of the electorate than just those who show up at local party conventions.

Political candidates win elections with appeal to a broad, not narrow, cross-section of voters.

The irony is that the Trumpy populists throw around terms like "we the people" and portray themselves as fighting the GOP establishment even as they argue that endorsements from small conventions of Republican insiders ought to count for more than the June primary vote.

Imagine being called an elitist for wanting rank-and-file Republicans to choose candidates instead of relatively tiny conventions.

For all the griping about the NDGOP not being conservative enough, it has built a 30-year super-majority on the back of pragmatic policy making that appeals to most North Dakota voters. That success is at risk if a small faction of ideologues is allowed to continue using the manipulated outcomes of small conventions to create the appearance that the NDGOP is something it isn't.

The party should rid itself of endorsing conventions and instead rely on the June primary for candidate selection.

The primary isn't perfect. Currently, it's open, meaning people who are not Republicans (or Democrats or Libertarians, etc.) can vote to choose the party's candidates. But that can be remedied by implementing voter registration.

Ours is the only state in the union without it. It's time for that to change. And once that change is in place, the June primary, with its larger participation numbers, becomes a far more valid process for choosing the party's candidates.

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The Trumpy populists will howl, but that's only because this move would shatter the illusion of their popularity.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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