50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 39. North Dakota

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

39. North Dakota

Capital: Bismarck

Nickname: The Peace Garden State

Motto: Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable

About the State

Prior to the arrival of European settlers, North Dakota was home to various Native American tribes including the Sioux, Chippewa and Arikara.  In the first half of the 18th century, French Canadian fur traders were the first from the Old World to explore the area, but there was no attempts made to establish settlements in the area.  That land had been claimed by France as part of the Louisiana Purchase, which had transferred to Spanish control in 1763 following the Seven Years’ War, before Napoleon retook possession of the colony in 1800 and sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.  However, part of the region in the north of the state had remained under British control until the Treaty of 1818 ceded it to America and the boundary with Canada was set.

After being part of the Minnesota and Nebraska Territories, the Dakota Territory was established in 1861, which included an area which covered North and South Dakota, as well as Wyoming and Montana.  It was not until late in the 1800s that settlement of the region began to increase significantly, as the Northern Pacific Railroad extended into the territory and people moved to the Red River Valley to work in commercial agriculture.  On November 2nd, 1889, North Dakota became the 39th state of the Union…or the 40th – South Dakota was joining at the same time and President Harrison, to abate the rivalry between the two, requested that his Secretary of State, James Blaine, shuffle the proclamation papers so that he would not know which one he was admitting first.  Since the exact order will never be known, it has become convention to list North Dakota, which is alphabetically first, as the 39th state.  By the early 20th century, settlers had come from other parts of America, including a large group of people of Scandinavian origin, and Germans who moved to North Dakota from Russia and established what became known as the “German-Russian Triangle” in the southern part of the state.

In 1915, the Non-Partisan League was formed in North Dakota, which was a left-wing political movement designed to stop big banks and corporations from gaining too much control in the state.  The majority of its members were wheat farmers – in particular Norwegian Americans – and the group established the Bank of North Dakota and the North Dakota Mill and Elevator, both of which are still in existence today.  By the 1950s, the NPL had been incorporated into the Democratic Party.

The state’s economy remains centered around agriculture, with its main outputs being corn, wheat, oats and buckwheat, in which it ranks second in the country for production.  Energy is North Dakota’s other major employment sector, in particular oil, but also renewable sources such as wind.  Since 1987, unemployment in the state has not dropped below 5% and as of September 2012, its rate of 3.0% is the lowest in the country.

North Dakota is the 19th state in terms of area and, with fewer than 700,000 residents, it ranks as the third least populated.  The city of Rugby is the geographical center of North America, and the state has more churches per capita than any other in the nation.  No Presidents have been born from the state, nor are there any “Big Four” sports teams, but Roger Maris – who broke the single season home run record in 1961 while playing with the New York Yankees – grew up in Fargo.  In tourism, it is the least visited of the 50 states and there have been several attempts in the past to change the name to “Dakota”, dropping the “North” with the theory being that it is associated with a cold and unpleasant place to visit.  Another possible explanation for the lack of tourists wanting to visit is the lack of any notable attractions in the state.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes:3

2008 Result: McCain 53.3% Obama 44.7%

Latest Poll: Romney +14%

Since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second electoral win (out of 4) in 1936, North Dakota has been won by the Democratic candidate just once – in 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson took all but 6 states in the south against Barry Goldwater.  That trend will continue this November as Governor Romney is sure to carry the state and gain its three Electoral College Votes

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is one Senate seat being contested in North Dakota this November, with the Democratic party incumbent, Sen. Kent Conrad, retiring rather than seeking another term.  Conrad was first elected in 1986, but made a promise not to stand for re-election should the Federal Budget Deficit not be reduced during his term.  When it was not, he kept his word and did not run for his seat in 1992, but when the other Senator for the state, Quentin Burdick, died in September of that year, Conrad contested the special election to replace him.  After winning the ballot, Conrad resigned one Senate seat in North Dakota to take up the other one on the same day, a unique even in US political history.  This year’s battle is considered a toss-up between Rick Berg (R) and Heidi Heitkamp (D), with both parties focusing on a race that could determine who has control of the Senate in the next Congress.

There is one At Large district for North Dakota in the House of Representatives, with the current incumbent being Rick Berg, who is contesting the Senate election rather than seeking another term.  The Congressional race is between Kevin Cramer (R) and Pam Gulleson, with the GOP candidate expected to win.

Gubernatorial: Governor Jack Dalrymple is seeking a full four-year term after assuming the office in 2010 when the man who had held the office before him, John Hoeven, was elected to the U.S. Senate.  Dalrymple currently has a 35 point lead in the polls over his Democratic Party rival, Ryan Taylor.

Ballot Measures: Measure 1 on the North Dakota ballot this year proposes ending the legislative assembly’s authority to levy a poll tax, as well as removing offensive language from the article in the state’s constitution which gives it this power.  The current text of Section 6 of Article X currently reads as follows:

The legislative assembly may provide for the levy, collection and disposition of an annual poll tax of not more than one dollar and fifty cents on every male inhabitant of this state over twenty-one and under fifty years of age, except paupers, idiots, insane persons and Indians not taxed.

There are also measures to allow residents to vote on a ban on smoking in all indoor workplaces; to ensure ranchers and farmers are able to use modern practices in perpetuity; and that would make the harming of a dog, cat or horse a category C felony.

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