One of the strangest things about North Dakota is that the Roughrider State has not had a Republican U.S. senator since 1986 and last had a Republican as its congressman-at-large in 1980.
That is particularly strange because not only has the state twice given its electoral votes to George W. Bush, but has filled all statewide offices save that of commissioner of agriculture with Republicans and given handsome majorities to the GOP in both the state senate and state house of representatives.
So why has North Dakota elected liberal Democrat Earl Pomeroy to its lone congressional seat since 1992?
“In large part, it’s because more than 90% of his sizable campaign funds come from political action committees outside the state and that has discouraged Republican contributors and strong candidates,” said Roger Timm, campaign manager for Republican hopeful Matt Mechtel, “and the result is a congressman who doesn’t represent the common-sense values of the businessmen, housewives, and farmers of North Dakota.”
As recent examples of this, Timm cites the votes of Pomeroy (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 24%) against the fence along the Mexican border, against warrantless anti-terrorist intercepts and against federal protection of religious monuments.
Such votes and such a record are finally coming under fire this year, as Pomeroy faces conservative Republican Matt Mechtel, a farmer from Cass County in the Northwest corner of the state. At 37, Mechtel has been a farmer for 20 years, launched a few successful small businesses, and is a gourmet cook. His political experience has been limited to donating money to the state Republican Party, but this has not stopped GOP powerhouses—notably Republican National Committeewoman Connie Nicholas and husband Gene, a 32-year state legislator—from weighing in strongly for the neophyte candidate.
Because of his lack of political experience and varied life in the private sector, Matt Mechtel is everything that Earl Pomeroy—who has been in elective office for 26 unbroken years—is not. Mechtel favors the Bush tax cuts and making them permanent, supports oil drilling in Alaska, and the tough, amnesty-free border-security measures passed by the House. A strong backer of the War on Terror, Mechtel wants a permanent Patriot Act as well as a declaration of war on terror itself.
As a political newcomer challenging a seasoned incumbent, Matt Mechtel follows in the tradition of another conservative Republican who was repeatedly questioned about his lack of political experience. That same Republican would concede that his opponent did indeed have many years of experience and quickly add: “That’s why I’m running.” And he won. His name was Ronald Reagan.