Longtime Libertarian disavowed in Democratic-NPL primary race for U.S. House seat

Raknerud, left; Riemers, right

Voters will decide one contested Democratic-NPL statewide race in North Dakota’s primary election, between candidates the party has endorsed and disavowed, respectively.

Zach Raknerud, a 26-year-old retail manager in Minot, is the party’s endorsed candidate for North Dakota’s sole U.S. House seat. He’ll face Roland Riemers, who runs a rental property company in Grand Forks, in the primary for the Democratic-NPL nomination.

The party’s nominee would be expected to face incumbent U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., and Libertarian Steven Peterson in November. Neither has a challenger in the primary.

Riemers, 77, has been an unsuccessful candidate for several offices in recent years, including secretary of state, agriculture commissioner, state auditor and governor. He’s usually run as a Libertarian but is seeking the Democratic-NPL nomination to better his chances against Armstrong in November, should he go forth.

Though Republicans hold all statewide and congressional seats in North Dakota, and control its Legislature, Democrats have fared better than Libertarians, who hold no seats in state government.

Riemers participated in a protest in April at the state Capitol against Gov. Doug Burgum’s business closures and restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The same day, Democratic-NPL Party leadership disavowed his candidacy.

“Riemers words and actions are irresponsible and not representative of Dem-NPL values. We disavow his conduct and his campaign entirely,” Democratic-NPL Party Executive Director Michael Taylor said in a statement.

Raknerud, who is running to improve economic conditions for working families, said his candidacy is more reflective of Democratic-NPL values. He said he’s been “thankful” for the precautions state officials have taken in response to the pandemic.

But “we could have gone so much farther” beyond the $2.2 trillion CARES Act federal rescue package, he said, such as pausing “nonessential” debt collection and better supporting workers and small businesses.

Riemers said he supports a strategy of herd immunity and social distancing without closures to mitigate the pandemic. He said he would have voted against the CARES Act, and would have preferred that the $1,200 economic impact payments be given “to people who really needed it.”

Regarding his party affiliation, Riemers said he’s been involved with North Dakota’s Republican and Democratic-NPL parties in the past.

He also said Democratic-NPL support in 2016 helped him garner almost 23% of the statewide vote as a Libertarian candidate for state auditor against Republican Josh Gallion. Democrats had no candidate for that race.

But Riemers feels his chances would be better on a different ticket this time around. He’s running due to a dissatisfaction with Armstrong and Washington, D.C., and called himself conservative when it comes to spending.

Raknerud said Riemers doesn’t offer a platform to support North Dakota’s working people, but his strategy is “correct” in that North Dakota has a two-party system of politics.

“If he’s going to try to insurge into one, that’s his own deal, but we’re going to make sure he doesn’t do it,” he said.

Riemers said he’ll campaign for Raknerud if Raknerud is nominated in June “because I kind of like the guy.” He wasn’t aware of the party disavowing his candidacy when asked about it, but said “that’s up to the voters to decide.”

“The people know who I am and what I stand for,” Riemers said.

Riemers’ strategy is a long shot, according to Mark Jendrysik, a professor of political science and public administration at the University of North Dakota. Most candidates who shift party affiliations don’t do it out of convenience, he said. Name recognition helps in a race, but Riemers is known as a Libertarian, he added.

“I don’t think that the average primary voter of the Democratic-NPL Party is going to vote for a man who has identified as a Libertarian for a long time, has run under their banner, repeatedly, for multiple offices,” Jendrysik said.

North Dakota’s primary election will be conducted entirely by mail-in ballot due to the pandemic.

Either Raknerud or Riemers will proceed to the Nov. 3 general election as the Democratic-NPL nominee for U.S. House. A Democrat last won the seat in 2008. The salary is $174,000.

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