AP NEWS
ADVERTISEMENT

North Dakota Democrats look for big turnout, virus or no

March 9, 2020 GMT
1 of 2
The AFL-CIO headquarters in Fargo, N.D., pictured on Monday, March 9, 2020, will be one of 14 sites for the North Dakota Democratic presidential caucus, where 14 delegates are at stake. The state Democrats have changed their caucus to allow some participants to treat it like a primary where they can vote and leave. Party leaders are expecting a good turnout with warm weather on tap and limited fears from North Dakota residents about the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)
1 of 2
The AFL-CIO headquarters in Fargo, N.D., pictured on Monday, March 9, 2020, will be one of 14 sites for the North Dakota Democratic presidential caucus, where 14 delegates are at stake. The state Democrats have changed their caucus to allow some participants to treat it like a primary where they can vote and leave. Party leaders are expecting a good turnout with warm weather on tap and limited fears from North Dakota residents about the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Democrats said Monday they don’t expect coronavirus fears to dampen turnout in the state’s presidential caucuses.

Participation on Tuesday was expected to rise dramatically from four years ago. That’s mainly due to a procedural change that makes the caucuses function more like a traditional election, with citizens able to drop in at 14 caucus sites to cast their ballot and leave.

Party leaders said they were making no changes at the caucus sites due to the virus.

“We are asking everyone to take the same precautions everyone else is: just make sure you wash your hands really well,” state Democratic Party spokesman Alex Rohr said. “There’s really only so much we can do about it and I really don’t think it’s going to suppress turnout.”

Bernie Sanders, who won the state’s caucuses four years ago, faces Joe Biden in a race dramatically upended by Biden’s Super Tuesday turnaround. Neither campaign had focused closely on North Dakota, where 14 pledged delegates are at stake.

ADVERTISEMENT

Karen Anderson, 60, who teaches at an alternative learning high school program in the Fargo area and supports Biden over Sanders, said coronavirus will “absolutely not” keep North Dakota Democrats from voting.

“The Midwest thinks they are exempt from the outside world,” Anderson said. “They just think they are protected because most of the people are just like them.”

North Dakota hasn’t yet had a confirmed case of COVID-19. Rohr said he has been in contact with state and local health officials who point out that influenza remains the state’s top health issue.

“If something comes up and it becomes a concern than we’ll make appropriate adjustments,” he said.

Of more concern, at least to Biden backers, is whether they can generate enough enthusiasm to knock off Sanders, who four years ago walloped HIllary Clinton in North Dakota by nearly 40 percent. The Biden campaign on Monday was promoting his endorsement by the Democratic trio who together represented North Dakota in Congress for nearly two decades.

Longtime Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, once promoted by the party as Team North Dakota, said Biden has long supported farmers and provided disaster relief to the state during times of flooding and drought.

“Joe Biden’s been there for us — now it’s time for North Dakota to be there for him,” the group said in a statement.

Their endorsement follows a similar announcement last week by another former Democratic senator from North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp. She is hoping that her support — and that of neighboring Sen. Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota — will help Biden.

ADVERTISEMENT

Don Morrison, of Bismarck, who recently retired as executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, an environmental group that has monitored impacts of the energy industry, said Sanders represents the working people that have typically voted Democrat.

Anderson said she doesn’t believe there is “any other option” than Biden because Sanders is too polarizing and “it would just be another mess.”

Despite North Dakota’s modest delegate count, Morrison said the state is important in helping decide the Biden-Sanders fight.

“I love that North Dakota is going to get some positive attention, to do something that really matters,” Morrison said. “This is an important part of the campaign. This is great. This is exciting. It should really encourage people to go out and vote.”