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D'Ya NoDak: Folksy Fargoan seeks Dem-NPL nomination

The governor’s race is heating up with the Fargo Forum and North Dakota Monitor coverage of state senator Merrill Piepkorn seeking the Dem-NPL nomination in April. Piepkorn, a Dakota Datebook reader on Prairie Public and the former host of Hear It Now, is known for his folksy demeanor and optimism.

He walks into the convention with a distinct advantage: there’s not a lot of desire to seek the Democratic nomination for governor. The other candidate seeking the nomination is Travis Hipsher of Neche. In an overwhelmingly Republican state, Democrats running for statewide office can seem like sacrificial lambs.

Democrats haven't won a race for Governor since 1988, when George Sinner won a second term. And in 1992, the race for the Democratic endorsement for Governor was contested – and contentious.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Heigaard won the endorsement for Governor at the convention, defeating Attorney General Nicholas Spaeth. And Spaeth decided to run in the primary. At the time, it was seen as a very negative race – one of the campaign ads Heigaard ran showed a large, empty desk, claiming that Spaeth doubled his budget and staff. But Spaeth won the primary, and then went on to lose to Republican Ed Schafer.

Some Democrats blamed Spaeth for contributing to a series of losses the party has suffered in following years, and from which they have never fully recovered. Other party members cast blame on the state’s former members of Congress, Sens. Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan and Heidi Heitkamp, saying they didn’t do enough to create a “bench” of candidates.

And then there was the election two years ago. Mark Haugen of Bismarck was nominated for the U.S. House, at the Democratic Convention. Haugen is a “pro-life” Democrat. Then, Cara Mund, a former Miss America, from Bismarck, announced she would challenge the sitting Congressman, Republican Kelly Armstrong. The incumbent won re-nomination, and Mund ran as an independent. Soon after, Haugen dropped out of the race, saying he had some pressure from some “prominent Democrats” to throw his support behind Mund, who said she was pro-choice.

I’ll be in Fargo next Friday to cover both conventions. For next week's D'Ya NoDak, I’ll take a look at an increasingly contested race for superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction. It is a nonpartisan race, but candidates will be vying for letters of support in a position that is caught in the cross hairs of education funding, parents’ choice and determining the cultural values that underpin North Dakota’s K-12 system.

And save the date: On April 23, I'm moderating the Republican gubernatorial debate between Congressman Kelly Armstrong and Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller. The debate will be live on Prairie Public’s radio and television services, as well as livestreamed on YouTube.

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