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Published September 15 2012

West Fest, politics go hand-in-hand

WEST FARGO - Unseasonably warm autumn weather greeted the thousands of area residents and visitors who turned out for Saturday’s annual West Fest parade.

And while the warm temps helped people forget about fall for a moment, the many politicians marching in the parade was a constant reminder of the November general election, now less than two months away.

Among the estimated 150 parade entrants was North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, waving from his campaign’s convertible. His opponent, Ryan Taylor, was also there, shaking hands with parade attendants and giving stickers to kids.

And on and on, with candidates from both statewide and local races all represented at Saturday’s parade.

Not surprisingly, West Fest was just one of many parades politicians have been to this season, with candidates trying to use the events as a way to connect with local voters.

Chris Van Guilder, a spokesperson for Rep. Rick Berg, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, said in an email that Berg has been to about 12 parades this summer, with volunteers representing him in more than 50 more.

Brandon Lorenz, a spokesperson for Heidi Heitkamp, Berg's opponent, said Heitkamp and her campaign have been at parades "virtually every weekend since May," but did not specify a number.

Dalrymple said he and his campaign have participated in 65 parades this season, while Taylor said he has personally been in 12 parades across the state.

Kevin Cramer, Republican candidate for U.S. House, said in an email that West Fest was his 11th parade, with four more still to go.

“Parades are a great way to get out and connect with a lot of people at one time in the public arena,” Cramer said in the email.

By contrast, his opponent, Pam Gulleson, has been in 17 parades so far, with her campaign representing her in 21 more, according to Hillary Price, Gulleson’s spokesperson.

Gulleson said that parades “provide a great chance to interact with voters face-to-face.”

As for the voters themselves, some at West Fest said that seeing politicians in parades isn’t necessarily that significant.

Sitting near the West Fargo VFW, Sandy Lawler of Linton, N.D., said seeing a politician probably wouldn’t sway her vote, although it would help to put a face to the name.

“It makes me aware of who’s out there,” she said. “That image is important.”

David Johnson of West Fargo, sitting a few blocks away, seemed to agree.

“It’s nice that they show up in community events, but seeing them wouldn’t sway me one way or another,” he said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535