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Port: Rick Becker may have done the NDGOP a big favor by running as an independent

The North Dakota Republican Party no longer has any obligation to pretend as though Rick Becker is a member in good standing, whatever Becker himself might have to say about it.

Rick Becker
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck.
Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune
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MINOT, N.D. — Outgoing state Rep. Rick Becker, who was rejected as a U.S. Senate candidate by delegates to the North Dakota Republican Party's state convention this spring, and who opted to deny rank-and-file Republican voters the opportunity to cast their ballots on his candidacy in the June primary race, has now decided to re-launch his Senate campaign as an independent .

The conventional wisdom is that this is a headache for Republicans and their candidate, incumbent Sen. John Hoeven, and there's truth in that, but there are also other truths to consider.

Primary-2022-021 (1).jpg
North Dakota GOP Chairman Perrie Schafer on Tuesday, June 14. 2022.
Kyle Martin / The Forum

The NDGOP is fractured, with fault lines between the party's traditional conservatives and a new breed of conspiracy-minded populists. Becker, who has served in the state Legislature for a decade as a Republican, is one of the figures central to that divide.

Agree with it or not, he has postured himself as a capital-T, capital-C True Conservative who is fighting back against the evil Republican establishment who has governed North Dakota so effectively for three decades that citizens of our state line up to vote for them in landslide numbers in one election after another.

To that extent, Becker, who has leveraged the chaos of this deplorable moment in American politics to draw a not-small following on social media, really has been a headache for the NDGOP.

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Now he may have handed the party some Tylenol.

We saw the first hint of it in the press statement issued by NDGOP Chairman Perrie Schafer in response to Becker announcing his run as an independent.

“It’s unfortunate that Rick Becker has decided to leave the Republican Party," Schafer said.

That's really interesting!

NDGOP Becker press release
A press release sent out by the North Dakota Republican Party responding to outgoing state Rep. Rick Becker announcing that he'll be campaigning against Republican Senate incumbent John Hoeven.
Screenshot

Becker, of course, claims that he's not leaving. "I am not breaking with the party, rather I am continuing to hold it accountable," he said in his statement announcing his run as an independent, but that's the candidate speaking politician.

If you're opposing the candidate chosen by the party, through a process you participated in and lost, then you're breaking with the party.

The North Dakota Republican Party no longer has any obligation to pretend as though Rick Becker is a member in good standing, whatever Becker himself might have to say about it.

I'm not just talking about the NDGOP's recent change in bylaws, which prevent candidates from seeking the party's endorsement if they've run as an independent within the last six years (such a candidate could presumably still seek the nomination through our state's open primary process). I'm talking about the party denying Becker access to its resources. Its campaign apparatus. Most importantly, its brand.

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That all counts for less in this digital age where online tools have made the tasks of organizing, communicating, and fundraising easier than ever, but it still counts for something.

And, symbolically, the party having solid justification to turn its back on a sore loser like Becker, who is refusing to accept the outcome of the party's candidate selection process, is a powerful thing.

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And I'm not just talking about Becker. Within the NDGOP there are local leaders — district chairs in places such as Minot — who are ardent supporters of Becker. If they come out in favor of Becker's independent candidacy, if they use party resources from their districts to support his candidacy, the party would be on solid footing to remove them from their positions.

Because, again, the Republican candidate is John Hoeven. He beat Becker at the convention and won the June primary, and the fact that Becker doesn't like Hoeven is irrelevant to those facts.

Becker will be able to pull some votes from Hoeven. He may even score more votes than Democratic challenger Katrina Christiansen. But he's not going to win, and in the long run this decision to operate outside of the NDGOP is going to cost him support.

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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