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Trump, Burgum, Armstrong win North Dakota races

By JAMES MacPHERSON Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — President Donald Trump and Gov. Doug Burgum posted lopsided victories Tuesday in traditionally Republican North Dakota. And their party is certain to maintain a tight grip on the Legislature. Less certain is what will come of a proposal that asks voters to let the Legislature review and approve citizen-initiated constitutional amendments.

Here’s a look at what’s in play on Election Day:

PRESIDENT

Donald Trump eased past Joe Biden to take North Dakota. Trump was expected to roll in the reliably red state where he crushed Hillary Clinton four years ago, and neither man invested much time or energy in the state. No Democrat has carried the state since 1964, and Trump cemented his following in oil-rich North Dakota by committing strongly to the industry. He unveiled his “America First” energy plan in North Dakota four years ago aimed at spurring production of oil, coal, natural gas and other energy sources. Shortly after taking office, Trump burnished his appeal to the state’s conservatives by pushing through final federal approval of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline to move North Dakota oil to Illinois.

GOVERNOR

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum has won a second term after a campaign that focused largely on his management of the coronavirus pandemic. Burgum defeated Democrat Shelley Lenz, a veterinarian running her first statewide campaign. Burgum benefited from an electorate that is strongly conservative, winning despite a state economy that’s been weakened by the coronavirus epidemic and where the spread of COVID-19 cases has been among the worst in the nation since late summer. Lenz had contended that Burgum didn’t do enough to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including mandating face coverings. Democrats haven’t won the governor’s office in North Dakota since 1988. The party holds no statewide or congressional offices.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

Republicans in the Legislature believe voters should give lawmakers a chance to thwart changes to the state constitution approved by citizens. In other words, lawmakers want voters to ask themselves: “Are you really sure you want this?” Their move was inspired in part by successful ballot measures in recent years funded by out-of-state interests. Opponents say the measure on the ballot effectively gives lawmakers veto power over what citizens want. If lawmakers reject an initiated measure, it would automatically return for a citizen vote in the next statewide election.

U.S. HOUSE

Kelly Armstrong, who spent part of his first term defending Trump during impeachment hearings, is returning to the House. The attorney, former state party head and state senator from Dickinson defeated Democrat Zach Raknerud, a retail manager from Minot running his first statewide campaign. Armstrong has strong ties to North Dakota’s oil industry. His father, Mike, is a longtime oil driller who has been a competitor and colleague of billionaire Harold Hamm, considered the godfather of North Dakota’s oil industry. Armstrong also is childhood friends with Tommy Fisher, whose North Dakota company in January received $1.3 billion to build a section of Trump’s signature wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

LEGISLATURE

Republicans are hoping to bolster their majorities in the Legislature; Democrats hope to erode them just a bit with gains in the more liberal eastern part of the state. Republicans now have a 37-10 Senate advantage and a 79-15 edge in the House. Roughly half the Legislature’s seats are on the ballot. Democrats have been out in the cold since 1995. The GOP’s dominance takes on additional importance after this election. The party in power gets oversight of drawing new legislative districts next year following the release of federal census data.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Voters will decide whether to expand the state’s higher education board from eight to 15 members. The Legislature referred the measure last year, saying that expansion would help with a growing workload. Burgum worked against the idea after advocating instead for two boards — one for North Dakota State and the University of North Dakota, and one for the remaining nine schools. The Legislature killed the governor’s idea after smaller schools protested, believing they might become less important under a multiple-board system.

VOTERS SPEAK

Both Democrats and Republicans said Tuesday they are worried about the spread of the coronavirus and it influenced their vote for governor.

Sean McLean, a 79-year-old retired university professor and Vietnam War veteran, voted for Trump four years ago and did so Tuesday — but not for Burgum. “His handling of the virus has been totally stupid,” McLean said. “I actually think he’s a Democrat.”

Becky Rath, 51, a food and beverage manager from Bismarck, said she is supporting Burgum despite increased criticism of his handling of the coronavirus. “I think he’s been doing as good as he could,” Rath said. “It’s a tough job.”

Meanwhile, several voters said they were confused over the proposal asking whether they want the Legislature to have the power to review citizen-initiated constitutional amendments. But not Rath, who said she understood the measure and called it legislative “overreach, and against what voters want.”

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