ND governor targets fellow Republicans to mixed results

Poll worker David Wyum, left, helps a voter get started on an electronic voting machine at a hotel conference room in West Fargo, N.D., during North Dakota's primary election on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. West Fargo is one of the state's fastest-growing cities with a population of about 37,000 residents. (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack) (Dave Kolpack)

BISMARCK, N.D. – North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum’s expensive effort to influence the GOP primary and reshape the Legislature with more people who support his spending and policy goals was a mixed bag, with one of his main political foes ousted but some others winning their races.

Burgum, a wealthy former Microsoft executive, gave more than $1.2 million ahead of Tuesday’s primary to a political action committee that spent against certain lawmakers, including some from the North Dakota GOP'S ultraconservative wing. The second-term governor also gave more than $3 million to the PAC in 2020 with similarly mixed results.

Burgum has declined interviews with The Associated Press to talk about his campaign spending. In a statement Wednesday, Burgum congratulated the winning candidates and said the election "saw healthy and spirited competition which is a win for North Dakota voters.”

Burgum’s PAC named eight districts it was targeting. Based on advertising the PAC paid for, three of Burgum’s likely preferred Senate candidates won, while three lost. At least seven House candidates likely supported by the governor in those districts will advance this fall, while four will not.

Burgum’s biggest win — and probably the costliest campaign — came with the defeat of state Rep. Jeff Delzer, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who has clashed with the governor of policy and spending priorities.

Burgum supported political newcomers Anna Novak and Mark Pierce for two seats in the district, one occupied by Delzer and one held by incumbent Republican Bill Tviet, who is not part of the ultraconservative Bastiat Caucus. Novak and Tviet were the top vote-getters and will move on to the November election unopposed to represent the sprawling rural area northwest of Bismarck.

Burgum’s spending flooded the airwaves, internet and mailboxes with advertising backing his candidates.

Tviet called Burgum’s spending “unfair and unethical — it was garbage.”

“He was trying to get us both out of there,” Tviet said Wednesday.

Delzer, a farmer who has served in the Legislature since the early 1990s, did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

It's not the first time Burgum successfully spent money defeating Dezler. He also lost two years, but Burgum's hand-picked candidate died after winning the election, and Republicans chose Delzer to fill the seat.

In other races Tuesday, Republican state Rep. Jeff Magrum, a plumber and rancher, won a Senate seat over a Burgum-backed candidate. Two GOP-endorsed House members also prevailed over moderate candidates backed by Burgum.

Magrum is one of the Legislature’s most conservative members. He has fought mask mandates and falsely contends Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. He unsuccessfully pushed an abortion ban and successfully pushed legislation that allows someone to use deadly force without retreating in certain circumstances.

Burgum’s focus and advertising for his preferred candidates in the rural district south of Bismarck was a turnoff to many voters, Magrum said.

“So many people were so upset about the many fliers in their mailboxes" Magrum said. "The older people were really irritated.”

“People just don’t want their Legislature bought and paid for by (Burgum),” Magrum said.

Magrum last year sought to prohibit a North Dakota governor from giving cash or endorsing a member of the Legislature, but his bill failed.

Burgum and his supporters say the spending is a form of free speech.

North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Perrie Schafer said the makeup of the Legislature will remain largely the same, with ultraconservatives making little inroads in the GOP-dominated chamber

“Certainly, some from the far right won and some moderate Republicans won,” he said. “I’m not sure the calculus in the Legislature has changed.”