The Oil Vote Wasn’t That Big Of A Factor For Berg


In an attempt to project some sense onto what happened in North Dakota’s Senate race, I spent the morning breaking down vote totals by county and calculating the increases and decreases.

You can see it all in my spreadsheet below. For as fair a comparison as I could make it, I used the 2008 results from the North Dakota House race (there was no Senate race) to compare to the 2012 results from the Senate race.

Overall, voter turnout wasn’t up very much. We saw just over a 1% increase in total ballots cast (turnout was down 3.96%), and a less than 2% increase in ballots cast comparing the 2008 House race to the 2012 Senate race.

Did the oil vote impact the race? Not really. Voting in oil counties was about 48% of the increase in overall voting, but it just wasn’t that big of a total increase. There were just 2884 more votes from oil-producing counties (all of which, with the exception of Mountrail County, skew heavily Republican) in 2012 as compared to 2008, a number offset by the 1,441 vote increase in counties President Obama won in 2008.

My last check of the Secretary of State website this morning shows Heitkamp leading the race by 2,994 votes, all precincts reporting.

If there is blame to be laid for the outcome of the Senate race, it has to be put down at the feet of the Berg campaign. Something about candidate Berg and his campaign caused a significant chunk of voters to turn against him even as they voted other Republicans in to statewide offices by wide margins (the next closest statewide races were the House and PSC, both won by Republicans by a dozen points). I think the Berg campaign – not to mention quite a few observers such as myself – was relying a big influx of Republican voters from the oil patch. Even the media, in the lead-up to election day, were touting the “key bloc” of oil votes, which had the Democrats readying legal options to challenge oil patch votes.

There was an increase, but nowhere near large enough to offset Berg’s problems elsewhere.

Perhaps hanging your hat on a large voter turnout from transient workers new to the state wasn’t such a sound strategy.

ND County-By-County 2012 Election Results

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • leuchtman

    You know very well, Rob from our offline email conversation this weekend into Monday that I thought your argument about the transient worker situation had some traction. You really said it best last week… the Dems put up the best candidate they had and Berg was an uninspiring opponent. At the end of the day, I think going to every town where she could draw a crowd in the last week (she was in Enderlin and Lisbon– Ransom went heavily for Heidi) was a winning strategy. She riled up her voters and got them to convert. Berg didn’t. At the end of it, retail politics wins in ND.

    • Rob

      I think Heitkamp did a really good job of demonizing Berg.

      He’s a slum lord. “He’s rich,” as one of the people in a DSCC ad said.

      You really can’t attribute Berg’s loss to policy, or else you’d have expected some of the other Republicans candidates to do worse.

      It came down to personality, and North Dakotans liked Heitkamp more than Berg.

      • leuchtman

        The distortion of money in a low cost state like ND was important, and you may be right about personality, but I also don’t think that the policy views the GOP attributed to Heitkamp stuck because they didn’t really fit her.

        I’m going to say something counter-intuitive. I think the big money from back east and Washington Republicans trying to micromanage his race hurt Berg badly. The ads that his team cut, like the holding water, and the I like Heidi but I’m voting for Rick, were actually more in tune with ND.

        The problem isn’t exactly personality, because Pam Gulleson is more likeable than Kevin Cramer, and she lost by 15 points, but if you’re not the most likable guy in the world, and Berg comes across that way (I haven’t met him so I certainly wouldn’t want to make any blanket assumptions), you better make sure you can make your attacks stick.

        • Rob

          I’m not sure you’ve seen Gulleson and Cramer together in the same room. Cramer is much more gregarious and likable than Gulleson.

          • leuchtman

            You are correct, I haven’t seen them side by side, maybe my personal bias is showing a little, but I found Pam to be quite likable when I met her, although the one time I met Cramer, he did strike me as a decent guy, that’s why I voted for him in the primary.

          • Rob

            I’m sure she’s a very nice person, but as far as campaign trail charisma, Cramer was much better.

          • leuchtman

            I suspect he’s going to be in Congress awhile. As I said, I voted for him in the primary.

          • Rob

            Democrats will take a good run at him in 2014. He’ll be at the top of the ticket all by himself.

          • leuchtman

            With who? Earl? He’s a spent bullet. Taylor? Losing a race by 30 pts is a career killer. Plus, second term mid-terms are notoriously difficult races for incumbent party office seekers. As we’ve discussed, you aren’t wrong about the increasingly Republican nature of the state, and the Democratic bench is really, really slim.

          • Rob

            Maybe. But then, I made the mistake of underestimating their Democrats’ ability to hold this Senate seat.

            It’s way too early to tell, and a lot of it will depend on what sort of votes Cramer makes.

          • leuchtman

            Good points, Rob.

          • dfm

            The great thing about elections, there is always another one around the corner. And while I disagree with you on policy issues, I do give you kudos. Until the next time.

          • Rob

            Heh. Not a lot of kudos coming my way today. I thought I had the calculus of this race down.

            I was wrong. Guess I’ll take my lumps for a while, and we’ll move on.

          • Retire Now Conrad

            With Tracy Potter. He’ll be running for something!!!

      • spud

        Retail politics is something Heidi is great at and a sense of entitlement or better yet being an eliteist is what Berg is good at. His actions lastnite at his “victory” party reeked of lack of classness. He earned his defeat.

  • borborygmi

    Damn those polls and predictions. THey were all working so damn hard they were too tired to vote or maybe they didn’t believe the lies so they didn’t consider Heidi as much of a threat to their industry as some blog owners do.

  • geoff

    Can’t wait to see how independant Heidi is…. LOL

  • Flamejob5

    The Berg Campaign was awful. Berg himself comes across as someone who does not enjoy dialogue and intermingling with citizens. Not a good trait for a public servant.

    • dfm

      His style of campaigning would have worked in CA, but not in ND where you are expected to ‘mingle’ with the voters. In the big states, it is all media driven.

      • Rob

        I think that’s true. Berg – who is a very nice, very warm person one-on-one – is just uncomfortable in those situations.

        I think it’s pretty unfair that this is held against him. It should be about policy, not personality. But that’s politics, I guess.

        • Retire Now Conrad

          Don’t forget…

          Heidi’s twin brother is on the air for most of the day. He’s been telling us how moderate his sister is for a year.
          How could the oil industry finance his afternoon show? Are they paying attention? They’ll get theirs.

        • Lynn Bergman

          In Cass county it was definitely about “policy”; they no doubt remembered him being behind the defeated sales tax increase to fund “economic development” (code for “gifts for my friends in business”).
          I voted for Rick but was not thrilled to.

  • $8194357

    Barry lied federal lands died..

    Remember the big stink about oil production being up under the
    “pro oil” president Barry?

    Ya…Hiedi will get her chance to open up
    “federal lands”. We will be lucky if they don’t use the EPA to shut
    down production in the private sector…


    terior Department on Friday issued a final plan to close 1.6 million acres of federal land in the West originally slated for oil shale development.

    The proposed plan would fence off a majority of the initial blueprint laid out in the final days of the George W. Bush administration. It faces a 30-day protest period and a 60-day process to ensure it is consistent with local and state policies. After that, the department would render a decision for implementation.

    The move is sure to rankle Republicans, who say President Obama’s grip on fossil fuel drilling in federal lands is too tight.

    Continue Reading on

    End quote