Guest Post: North Dakota’s Electorate Throws Republicans For A Loop


In North Dakota, many Republicans are beside themselves as to just how Heidi Heitkamp managed to beat Rick Berg in the Senate race. From a political history standpoint, the easy answer is that North Dakota has a long history splitting tickets, but that is not the whole story.

Berg ran as a “Moderate Republican” and Heitkamp ran as a “Conservative Independent-Democrat”. At the top level, clearly Heitkamp was more effective at setting her brand, but the real causes and problems are much deeper than that.

The raw data of the race explains how Heitkamp won. Whether we call them “independent voters” or “disloyal Republicans”, there was a substantial lack of coattails from the Presidential and Gubernatorial races into the Senate race.

42,011 more votes were cast for Dalrymple than Berg.
(1 in 5 Dalrymple voters did not for Berg.)

29,828 more votes were cast for Romney than Berg.
(1 in 6 Romney voters did not vote for Berg.)

Both of these figures are steep declines from the “top of the ticket”. When 15-20% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters switch sides for a race, it is obviously going to be difficult to win.

Traditionally, this would be explained away by saying that Berg ran to the right of Dalyrmple or Mitt Romney and was defeated because he was running as a hard-right conservative. This cannot be the case, Berg was neither in practice or in campaigning any more conservative than Dalrymple or Romney.

What is difficult to explain away is how Kevin Cramer managed to collect 15,147 more votes than Rick Berg. Cramer ran as the most conservative candidate on the statewide ballot in North Dakota. It is easy to explain why Cramer did not garner as many votes as Dalrymple because of how conservatively he ran. However, nobody can argue that Berg ran too far to the right because Cramer ran as far right as possible and won!

And to further emphasis this point, 10,215 votes were cast for Eric Olson (Libertarian) that most likely would have gone to Cramer had Olson not been on the ballot. Likewise, if there had been a Libertarian option the Senate race, Berg would have had even fewer votes based on how many were cast for Olson. On top of all this, nearly 5,000 fewer total votes were cast in the House race than the Senate race.

So the real question: why did Berg lose 20% of Dalrymple’s voters, 15% of Romney’s voters, and 8% of Cramer’s voters?

Here are the three major contributors, in my opinion, that led to Rick Berg losing the election for U.S. Senate:

* The National Republican Senatorial Committee hurt Berg by increasing Heitkamp’s likability with the ads declaring that “Heidi is a nice person, but…” and having actors say “I like Heidi, but…” — North Dakotans have a long history of voting for people they like but don’t agree with. (i.e. Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad, Earl Pomeroy)

* Berg failed to articulate his beliefs beyond repealing Obamacare and stopping the EPA. In essence, he ran as a single issue candidate, and did not have a platform as a sitting congressman would be expected to have.

* Berg allowed Heitkamp to demonize his business success with Goldmark by appearing to distance himself from Goldmark, thereby reinforcing the Heitkamp demonization of Goldmark.

There are simply enough Republican-leaning voters that can be swayed to vote for a well-known and well-funded Democrat. In the big picture, this means that Republicans do not really have a strangle-hold in North Dakota – rather it means that Democrats cannot put up a fight in most instances.

It also means that Republican success in North Dakota is far more based on Democratic weakness than on Republican strength than even the most astute political observers realized.

Democrats found a way to convince voters that Heidi Heitkamp is “conservative enough.”

That alone should be a wake-up call for Republicans in this state.

Dustin Gawrylow is the Managing Director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network

Break Down Of Rick Berg's Senate Loss

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  • downwiththeoldguard

    He also voted for CISPA, which many internet savvy people do not want passed.

    • Jeff

      And NDAA. Not many people liked him or trusted him. He came off as a shady politician to many people I’ve heard from.

  • Marty from North Dakota

    Another big hurt: Rick Berg voted for the NDAA military authorization bill that contains section 1021. Voters are becoming more aware of loss of liberties and this one shocked ‘em. With the help of Berg’s vote, any president now and in the future can detain an American citizen without trial, rendition that person to a foreign prison never to be heard from again; or to be tortured and killed. Everything Americans fought and died for went in the toilet with that vote. Sen. Hoeven voted in favor also, as did Sen. Conrad.

  • JJ

    I’m sure Berg’s congressional voting record didn’t help him out as well, he did vote for the NDAA, CISPA, and funding the TSA. We could have sent Pomeroy back to the House in 2010 to do that.

  • spud

    He is arrogant and thought he was entitled to the senate seat. Heidi outworked him and was rewarded for it. Hardwork pays off. Has anyone heard anything on any committe’s she might be put on.

    • Ruffles

      Hey dickhead, he was never arrogant and you know it. You want to criticize the campaign or his votes then fine, but you’re flat out wrong about the man.

  • Harold

    Republicans picked a bad candidate in Romney and Berg was potrayed as a serial killer or worse by Heidi and the democrats. At the least they said he was a scoundrel and it worked.

  • Phil Gay

    Heidi Heitkunt won because she had bigger balls than Rick Berg! Rick campaigned like a neutered dog!

    • Kim Watson

      Excuse you. Misogynist comment much?

      • Phil Gay

        there would be less blackeyes if women knew their place and kept their fat mouths shut.

        • AV

          Oh poor baby, are women still beating you up? Maybe you could wear some make-up to cover your blackeyes?

          But I can’t think why any women would want to hit you, you have such a winning personalty.

      • Phil Gay

        Men want women to put things into not to hear opinions come out.

        • Kim Watson

          Thank you Mr. Gay.

      • Waski_the_Squirrel

        Just ignore the troll. This one is making crude outrageous statements in a pathetic quest for attention.


    I think it was all the free advertising Heidi got on this blog. You know who is happiest about all of this, rob. He has 4-6 years to spin about Obama and Heidi and maybe earn some credibility back. Of course that means starting from the bottom again.

    • Rob

      Ha, don’t you worry about me cupcake. I’ll be just fine.

  • geoff

    I think it is much simpler than this. Berg took the Senate seat for granted and ran a lazy campaign. Hard work always pays off. Heidi worked her ass off and Berg sat by and watched. End of story

    • camsaure

      I don,t think you should say she worked her ass off, just look at her behind.

  • Yogibare

    Heidi will vote as Harry Reid says or else. Or else she will have a senate office next to the furnace room and a parking place in West Virginia.
    This will be one of the first tests for Heidi—vote with Reid to reduce the filibuster. Heidi will tell us in ND that it is “her way” to a balanced budget.

  • OldConserv2011

    Berg lost because the ND Republican party is no more conservative than the ND Democrat party. Look back at the convention and the shenanigans that took place there. The Paulites were shouted down by the Chairman. The Santorum supporters were blocked out at every turn. If Kevin Cramer hadn’t bypassed the convention and gone straight to the primaries, we would have had another losing candidate in Shane Goettle.

    I became involved in the party a few years ago because I thought it had drifted too far left and was losing any sense of conservatism it ever had. I thought I could influence from within as a district and region chairman. I was wrong. I’m just as disenfranchised as any other conservative in the state. I supported Kevin Cramer’s decision to bypass the convention, but I paid for it. You should have heard some of the phone calls I received chastising me for not being a team player. Thing is if I had been a team player, I’d be lamenting the loss of two races right now instead of just one.

    Kevin didn’t have to move right. He ran as he is, a rock solid conservative. And that’s why he won. Rick was all over the board. He was moderate. He was trying to be too nice. He didn’t defend the attacks through positive explanations. Other than repeal of Obamacare, he didn’t talk about the issues. He let Heidi appear more conservative than even he appeared to be.

    I was listening to Rush today and he was blaming the Romney loss on the 3 million conservatives who stayed home rather than vote for a moderate. And in so doing, knowing full well that abstinence would mean an Obama victory. Rush was wrong. The blame doesn’t fall on those 3 million, it falls on the national Republican party for not being principled conservatives and not putting forth a true conservative candidate. Say what you might about the Democrats, but one thing you cannot say is that they are not principled liberals. They eat, sleep and breathe liberalism. And that’s why they hold the presidency and the senate. Here in North Dakota, there’s not enough difference between Democrat and Republican principles, so we split tickets.

    Unless someone can convince me that there’s still hope for a resurgence of conservative values in the NDGOP, I’m bailing out.

    • Rob

      I’m not sure that Berg was “all over the board” so much as, a lot of the time, he wasn’t even on the board.

      His campaign allowed for there to be a vacuum in the race, which Heitkamp could fill with whatever she wanted.

    • Roy_Bean

      Right or wrong, I think Rick lost because of the Goldmark name. True or not, their reputation is that you only get your deposit back if you fight for it. With nearly 10,000 units for rent in the state and the number of people who have rented from them at some time in their lives, that can easily account for a sizeable group of people who will just leave it blank. Rick lost by less than 3000 votes. I don’t live anywhere near Fargo but even around my little town I hear stories of people who are still bitter because they feel like they were sh!t on years ago simply because they were young and uninformed. These things come back to haunt you. It’s too bad for Rick, and even more so for the rest of us, but I think that’s the way it is.

      • camsaure

        That’s what will keep on happening until we get new leadership, both nationally and statewide. The progressive RINOs are running the party so they don’t really mind obuma advancing socialism at all, they just miss some of the prestige of being in the ruling party. I have to wonder how many votes were lost because of the way the R party alienated the Ron Paul Libertarians. This happened both on the natinal scene as well as the state. We must also not forget the circular firing squad that the primary candidates participated in, much to the glee of the national media. Remember how Romney beat up on all the conservatives but was unwilling to do so to obuma. He gave him a pass on all things that mattered. On the state scene Berg was notoriously lazy and took it all for granted. If he would have stayed in the house and let someone more ambitious run for the Senate the Repubs may have held both seats. He also took the Progressive/RINO stance on the debt ceiling when obuma was on the ropes and was very vulnerable. Berg not only sold us out, he hurt himself also. It is incredible how many people I have talked to who have been screwed by Goldmark, and like it or not he cannot really distance himself from that by very much at all. My own youngest daughter had a run in with Goldmark and had a hell of a time getting her rental deposit back after renting 3 years while in college. She did not trash the place one bit. Goldmark calls it a security deposit but treats it more as a surcharge. That will not gain them any friends at all. Berg was also too lazy to debate until he absolutly had to. He took everything for granted, apparantly that does not play well with ND voters.
        I also observed a lot of apathy while trying to encourage folks to vote, because obuma agenda needs to be stopped. I usually got the classic “they are all crooked” response, or the “They would never take those fredoms away” response from some of the less informed. A trained monkey should have been able to beat obuma (at least if that monkey knew enough not to alienate their base). All it should have taken is someone who actually really believed in conservatism and not tried to play both sides. It is time for immediate new leadership in the party and if that doesn’t happen they can just as well go to hell for trying to lead us there. Boehner, McCain, Graham, McConnell and others behind the scenes as well, Rove etal need to be gone now, not later.

  • Shortcut

    The real reason Berg lost is the same reason Romney lost. Democrats have made a real industry out of class warfare. Both Berg & Romney are successful and most people can’t accept that anyone who has more than they do didn’t earn it. They also will do anything to hinder those people’s continued success. That is the sad truth. I’ve heard a million times how “he’s for the rich”, which means I’m jealous of his success & this is the way I can stick it to him. It’s pathetic

  • Kim Watson

    While I voted for Berg, here’s why I was less than enthused about it.

    He won his House race two years ago. He almost immediately decided to run for the Senate. That’s ambition, plain and simple. Leaves one with the impression, true or not, that instead of paying attention to the job that he was sent there to do he spent time fundraising to get to the next level of government.

    I don’t care for political job-hoppers (like Tracy Potter, who never saw an elected office he didn’t think he was qualified for… education, insurance, same thing). Pick one and do the job. Then maybe we’ll see if we want you to do something else.

  • Rick Olson

    Hi Rob. I’m with you. I thought there was no way that Rick Berg would lose. I think it all came down to his waffling on the Goldmark issue. Heidi and her handlers zeroed in on that issue and it proved to be a real achile’s heel for Berg. He just couldn’t recover from it. Instead of sidestepping and waffling on the Goldmark matter, he should have addressed those questions head on.

    I also think Dustin Gawrylow is on to something. A lot of this falls on the National Republican Senatorial Committee. How can 30,000 voters that went with Mitt Romney not go with Berg as well? Where was the coattail effect?

    To me, this came down to Rick’s arrogance. He should have directly addressed the Goldmark situation. The likeability and personality issue and what you said convinced especially newcomers to North Dakota (the oil field families out west) to hate Berg.

    Heck here in Fargo I mean the entire eastern third of the state, the demographics are changing. Cass County and Grand Forks County swung to Heitkamp. The Dems gained in the Legislature from here in Cass.

    We’re no longer the reliably red state we are…except in presidential elections.

    Heck here in Fargo I mean the entire eastern third of the state, the demographics are changing. Cass County and Grand Forks County swung to Heitkamp. The Dems gained in the Legislature from here in Cass.

    I live in the newly formed 16th Legislative District (eastern edge of West Fargo-and southwest part of Fargo in the West Acres area) and we sent two out of three Democrats to Bismarck.

    From what we saw in this election; given North Dakota’s ever-changing demographics, particularly out in oil country, we really can’t rule out the possibility that North Dakota could swing and go for a Democratic presidential candidate as early as 2016. Of course, North Dakota hasn’t gone for a Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. I suppose it all depends upon who’s running.

    • camsaure

      Could it be that it is getting ever harder to discern the Republicans fron Democrats in this state.

      • Rick Olson

        You might be onto something, there. Particularly when it comes to statewide issues/races. Back when the Democrats were last in power in North Dakota in the 1980s, during Gov. George Sinner’s administration, the Democrats had majorities in the Legislature for the first time in a long time. They were just as fiscally conservative as their Republican counterparts were.

  • Don Quixote

    What are you folks crying about. Republicans won all but one statewide race.
    You should be worried though. Heidi showed that with money a Democrat can win. Cramer may have a real race on his hands in two years.

    • Rick Olson

      More accurately, a well-financed Democrat can win a statewide race. You are right that Kevin Cramer could wind up having a real race on his hands in 2014. During the upcoming mid-term election two years from now, there will be no governor’s race nor a U.S. Senate race. The U.S. House race will be at the top of the ticket. Depending upon who the Democrats put up again Cramer, it could wind up being a very interesting race.

  • ilander

    I remarked here several days ago about Berg’s commercials stating “I like Heidi, but – – – “. I stated this sounded like an endorsement of sorts.

    Now that it appears I am right, I will say what was really on my mind.

    That advertising was MIND NUMBING STUPIDITY!!!!! I likened it to that “reach across the isle” bullshit mentality that always results in the loss of something.

    But on a higher level was the stupidity of the national RINO GOP pushing Romney through the primary process and stomping all over true conservatives like Newt or Santorum and totally ignoring Sarah.

    There are news articles out there that say (depending on source) that 3 – 7 million Republicans stayed home. True to religion Christians and solid conservatives would not relinquish their their core values to vote for Romney. These people will not “reach across the isle” to a cultist or a liberal Republican by voting for him! This information was out there before the primaries.

    I would say the GOP and their RINO goat herders cut their own throats. There is little difference between the two major parties other than the RINO’s being selfishly stupid and so spineless they are scared of their own shadows.

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    When I voted, I knew more about what Heitkamp stood for than Berg. I didn’t like what Heitkamp stood for, and that’s why I voted for Berg. Quite simply, Berg did not run much of a campaign. Admittedly, I live in a county that was clearly going to go heavily for Berg, so he may not have bothered with us.

    Berg lost because he didn’t run much of a campaign. I could give people reasons not to vote for Heitkamp. I couldn’t give any reasons to vote for Berg.