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Patrick Springer, Published November 07 2012

4 new Democrats add to Cass political mix

FARGO – Cass County saw Democrat Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp handily beat Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, and the Democrats elected four new faces to legislative seats.

Do those results add up to a trend favoring Democrats as Cass County grows and evolves? Well, not so fast: Republicans otherwise dominated most Cass County races, including the presidential contest, which Barack Obama won in 2008, one of 13 North Dakota counties he carried in his first White House run.

Cass County’s political portrait, in other words, is a mixture of Republican red and Democratic blue.

“I would say it’s more purple than red or blue,” George B. Sinner, one of four new Democrats elected to legislative seats in Cass County, said Wednesday. He believes most voters look for candidates offering solutions to key issues, rather than party label, and said that’s how he campaigned.

Anthony Reedy, executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party, said Cass County is contested territory for both parties.

“As a whole it’s still competitive for both parties – if you will, a battleground county,” he said.

Overall, Cass County leans Republican, Reedy said, with pockets favoring Democrats.

Mike Montplaisir, who has been supervising elections as Cass County auditor since 1991, said much of eastern North Dakota can no longer be taken for granted by Republicans.

Even so, he said he was surprised by the magnitude of Heitkamp’s win over Berg in Cass County, which she carried 56.5 percent to 43 percent. Sinner said Heitkamp’s popularity and organization helped Democratic legislative candidates pick up wins in Cass County.

“She had a very strong get out the vote with absentee ballots,” as well as early voters, he said. “I think we got our message out early, but Heidi really helped us.”

Another of the new Fargo Democrats elected to the Legislature was Joshua Boschee, who won a House seat in District 44. The win makes him the state’s first openly gay legislator.

Boschee said when he was out knocking on doors, voters in his district seemed much more independent and progressive.

“There was definitely interest in ideas. It wasn’t about ideology,” he said.

Boschee did say being in Fargo perhaps made his sexual orientation not as controversial as maybe it would’ve been in other parts of the state, but it wasn’t a major focal point of his campaign, either.

“With the majority of the population, it was never an issue,” he said. “What folks really appreciated is that we were talking about issues that were important to them.”

Democrats also captured two of three legislative seats in District 16, new to extreme south Fargo and nearby subdivisions.

Both of the Democratic victors in that district, Tyler Axness and Ben Hanson, are young, said Tim Mathern, a Democratic senator from District 21. That, he said, bodes well for the party’s future in Cass County.

When first elected in 1986, Mathern was the first Democrat ever to represent District 11, he said. He believes the south Fargo neighborhood’s changing demographics – a shift to younger families – helped him win, and a similar shift now could be unfolding in District 46, where Sinner captured a Senate seat. “District 46 is like my district 25 years ago,” Mathern said.

Forum reporter Erik Burgess contributed to this story.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522