Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part series on North Dakota legislative races. The second part focuses on competitive races from around the state.
BISMARCK — As the pivotal 2020 election nears, contested legislative races across the eastern edge of North Dakota are heating up.
Nearly half of the state Legislature is on the Nov. 3 ballot, though some candidates will slide to reelection unopposed.
Republicans are looking to grow their supermajority in the House of Representatives and Senate, while the Democratic-NPL Party is trying to regain some authority after more than 25 years in both chambers' minority. The dominant GOP holds 37 Senate seats and 79 House seats to the Democrats' 10 Senate seats and 15 House seats.
The winners of this year's election and incumbents will flock to Bismarck in January when North Dakota's citizen Legislature convenes for its biennial session.
Many of the competitive races come in Fargo and Grand Forks — two cities with younger and more politically liberal populations than the rest of the broadly conservative state.
In south Fargo's District 46, Republican Sen. Jim Roers is vying to keep his seat against Democratic challenger Terri Hedman. Roers, the owner of a construction and development company, won his first four-year term in 2016 over Democratic incumbent George B. Sinner by fewer than 50 votes after losing the same matchup four years earlier. It's the first run for Hedman, a registered nurse who was unopposed in the Democratic primary.
District 46's two House races feature two Republican incumbents — longtime lawmaker Jim Kasper and second-term seeker Shannon Roers Jones. In a rare move, Roers Jones has separated her candidacy from Kasper's following a Forum News Service investigation that found racist, sexist and fake news posts on Kasper's Facebook page for the second time this year. Kasper said he was hacked on the social media platform, but he has offered no evidence for the claim.
Roers Jones, the daughter of the district's senator, works as a lawyer for her father's company, while Kasper runs an employee benefits company. Their Democratic opponents share the same first and last name and have appeared side-by-side in promotional advertising. Ben W. Hanson, who served one term in a different Fargo district, and Ben M. Hanson, a political newcomer, are looking to break into the Republican-held district.
In north Fargo's District 44, the situation is reversed as three Democrats are fighting to keep their seats against a couple of Republican challengers.
Sen. Merrill Piepkorn aims to fend off Tim Flakoll, who he beat in 2016. Flakoll previously represented the district in the higher chamber from 1998 to 2016 and chaired the Education Committee. The race four years ago between Piepkorn, a radio producer, and Flakoll, the provost for Tri-College University, was decided by fewer than 150 votes.
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee and Rep. Karla Rose Hanson are running together against lone GOP candidate Scott Wagner. Boschee, a real estate agent, is looking to secure his third term, while Hanson, who owns a corporate communications business, is seeking a second term. Wagner is a former Cass County commissioner and operates a window cleaning business.
In one of North Dakota's few "split" districts, north Grand Forks voters can opt to reelect incumbents from each party. Republican Sen. Scott Meyer is looking for a second term in District 18, but Democratic nominee Kyle Thorson, who lost in the district House race in 2016, has other ideas.
Democratic Rep. Corey Mock and Republican Rep. Steve Vetter are both vying for second terms, but Democrat Jacqueline Hoffarth and Republican Cindy Kaml are each looking to know of the incumbent from the opposite party. Until 2016, the district had been solidly blue.
Three Republicans are contending to keep control of District 42, which encompasses the University of North Dakota. Sen. Curt Kreun, a retired small business owner and former House member, aims to keep his seat against Democratic challenger Melissa Gjellstad, a professor of Norwegian language at UND.
GOP Reps. Emily O'Brien and Claire Cory are looking to retain their seats against Democratic challengers Zachary Tomczik and Adam Fortwengler. Tomczik and Cory, who was appointed by local Republicans last year to take over after Jake Blum resigned, are both current UND students.