Pomeroy Routinely Grinds Out Wins And Stomps Out Republican Hopes

Posted April 6, 2005 at 6:25pm

North Dakota is a conundrum for Republicans.

On the one hand, the state is reliably Republican in presidential elections: In the past two, President Bush beat both Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and then-Vice President Al Gore by 28 points.

On the other hand, all three members of the state’s Congressional delegation are Democrats and have been since 1992, when Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomeroy were both sent to Washington, D.C.

While Pomeroy has faced several legitimate challenges, he has survived them all. Republicans hope to change that in 2006.

“You have an odd situation,” said one GOP strategist. “It’s a phenomenon that can’t really be explained, except that in small states like North Dakota, people tend to know their elected officials. When people have a personal relationship with their Representative, it’s tough to defeat them.”

David Strauss, chairman of the North Dakota Democratic Party, said Pomeroy, Conrad and Sen. Byron Dorgan are seen as able to deliver for the state, even though they are in the political minority.

“When you look at how long these people have served, it’s not surprising that they’ve developed personal relationships with their constituents,” Strauss said, adding that Pomeroy’s “effectiveness and committee assignments allows him to deliver.”

Pomeroy’s committees are clearly one of the keys to his continued success in elections; sitting on the Agriculture and Ways and Means committees, he has helped the state “get two dollars back for every dollar we send to Washington,” according to Strauss. “He’s part of one of the best delegations in the Congress.”

Jason Stverak, executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party, said that the GOP is trying to recruit a candidate who could defeat Pomeroy.

“There’s a lot of great candidates … we’re in the process of reaching out to people,” Stverak said, adding that “a lot of the individuals are waiting” until the election is a little closer before announcing their intention to run.

Among the names that Stverak mentioned are state Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman, state Tax Commissioner Rick Clayburgh and state Sen. Tony Grindberg. He also said that “people have mentioned” that Doug Burgum, a senior vice president at Microsoft, “should be approached.”

Rick Collin, communications director with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and an observer of North Dakota politics, believes Poolman and Clayburgh would both be very credible candidates. Clayburgh took 48 percent of the vote against Pomeroy in 2002, raising $1 million and forcing the Congressman to spend almost twice as much.

“Poolman has established a solid record here as insurance commissioner,” Collin said, noting that he “understands how to get his message to the public, he’s an attractive young candidate, and he understands the legislative process.”

Clayburgh is also credible, Collin said, as “he gave Pomeroy a very tough race in the last go around. He’s a very established tax commissioner.”

Collin theorizes that one of the reasons Clayburgh may be hesitant to declare that he is running is because “he has a young family, he’s very committed to his family, and that played into his decision.”

Another reason that Clayburgh may be holding off a decision is the fact that he has to run for re-election as tax commissioner in 2006. As one strategist noted, however, that race should be a “cakewalk” and would most likely not hinder a run at the Congressional seat.

According to Janell Cole, a Fargo-based political reporter, Poolman is high on the list of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which, she said, has called him twice in the past few weeks. So far, Poolman is noncommittal.

Burgum is an interesting wild card. Although his assistant said that he “has no plans of running at this time,” he could be a strong candidate. CEO of a North Dakota software company before joining Microsoft, Burgum brings a number of assets to the campaign, not the least of which is money.

“I think he would bring deep pockets to any race against Congressman Pomeroy,” Collin remarked.

He also noted that Burgum has “a deep commitment and loyalty to North Dakota, and he has fairly high name recognition.”

Although Burgum has not been active in state politics, he has been very involved in preserving historic sites in the state.

One Republican strategist familiar with the area said that if the GOP candidate does a good job of “explaining [Pomeroy’s] votes to the voters,” he would have a good chance of winning.

“There’s a myriad of votes he has to explain,” the strategist said. “You have votes on tax issues, like the marriage penalty, the death tax, making the president’s tax cuts permanent, issues that run counter to North Dakota values.”

Strauss replied that Pomeroy is firmly on the side of North Dakota’s voters.

As an example, Strauss argued that most people are opposed to Social Security reform and that Pomeroy is in a position to take advantage of an issue that benefits Democrats more than it harms them.

“Ways and Means is important in terms of the Social Security debate,” Strauss said. “In North Dakota there are 114,000 Social Security recipients.”