February 14, 2005


Battle of the Badlands (John Fund, Wall Street Journal)

Tom Daschle's defeat last November naturally created nervousness among other Great Plains Democrats who are facing reelection battles in "crimson" states where Mr. Bush won by 20 points or more. And perhaps none more so than North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad: It now appears likely that he will be challenged by popular GOP Gov. John Hoeven, setting up another multi-million dollar referendum on Democratic obstructionism in the Senate.

Hoeven Can't Wait (The Prowler, 2/7/2005, American Spectator)
It's true that President Bush hit the upper Midwest and the South in his first big push after the State of the Union Address in order to target potential Democratic support in the House and the Senate. But he also was sending Democrats a clear message: 2002 and 2004 were no mistakes. Recall that the President was particularly aggressive in campaigning for Republicans in the midterms in 2002, and barring unforeseen political disasters, will be out there again, pressing for added GOP strength in Congress.

Democrat Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota is up for re-election in 2006, and Bush apparently intends to do to him what was done to Sen. Tom Daschle in 2004 if Conrad doesn't fall into line. Conrad was rumored to be mulling retirement, but indications are now that he will run for re-election. The White House has targeted North Dakota's Republican Gov. John Hoeven to run against Conrad. Hoeven attended the State of the Union, then spent time with the President on Air Force One back to his home state. According to White House political sources and a staffer on the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Hoeven's political future was discussed.

Now Conrad finds himself in a tough spot. In a state that tends to run heavily red in national campaigns, with a strong rural and Catholic vote, he will be hard pressed to be a highly visible obstructionist with the GOP putting a spotlight on just about every move he makes in Washington. Hoeven is considered a strong campaigner, and popular in the state. The NRSC expects him to make a decision in the next couple of months, and he is expected to oblige the President.

The thing of it is that when you control Washington you can recruit these guys and then if they don't win you just reward them with a cabinet spot, agency head, ambassadorship, etc. What do the Democrats have to offer?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 14, 2005 4:02 PM

The press is just blowing this one. The truth is that the Republicans go after vulnerable Dems even if they play ball with the president on legislative matters.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 14, 2005 4:05 PM

Hush, David. They need not know that until Election night '06.

Posted by: Timothy at February 14, 2005 4:11 PM

"setting up another multi-million dollar referendum on Democratic obstructionism in the Senate"

One of the advantages of running as an incumbent is one's record and ability to "get things done" by doing favors and bringing home the pork. So why again is it a bad thing to use that same record against an incumbent and to show that he can't do anything but be an obstruction to the desires of his (nominall) constituents while the pork goes to the states with GOP Senators?

The Dems would be better off having every one of their dinosaurs retire so that the party can at least recruit a Salazar or Obama to run for an open seat not having to defend their predecessor's record. But they won't.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 14, 2005 5:49 PM

I'm surprised the post wasn't titled "Hoven's Gate."

Posted by: Mike Morley at February 14, 2005 5:58 PM

In a state like North Dakota, personal campaigning is very important, as it has about half as many people as Bergen County NJ. Conrad is well known, he has run several successful statewide races before so I wouldn't count him out.

Two other factors put this into a category of states less likely to go GOP in 2006. First, there are lots of poor elderly folks there, it is one of our 'oldest' states. The decision of the Democrats to attack SS privatization might be a vote-winner here. Also, the State has a tradition of socialist economics, it is the home of the 'Non-Partisan League', a bunch of numerically-illiterate farmers and demagogues who created conditions that make it, along with New Mexico, one of the two least friendly states to business between the Mississippi and the Rockies.

Sure, Hoeven has run well statewide but it is a uphill fight against Conrad. If this state goes GOP, we could be looking at 62-63 seats.

Posted by: Bart at February 14, 2005 6:37 PM

Conrad tried to retire once before, so there's no guarantee that he has the stomach for a tough race.

Agreed that Conrad is a master of
"deficitonomics"--calling for higher taxes and bigger government under the mask of "fiscal discipline." Perhaps he can demagogue SS successfully, as ND has an elderly population (if you were 21, would you want to stay in the "Big Empty"?), but this race isn't likely to be any tougher than Thune/Daschle in '04.

Posted by: AC at February 14, 2005 7:55 PM