BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota electoral politics are not known for their sprawling diversity, but race has recently taken a front seat in the state’s lone congressional battle. During a town hall debate Monday with Democratic challenger Tim Bennet, Republican candidate Roy McCanlis struggled to explain how his policies would lead to a more inclusive North Dakota.
“That is a great question,” said McCanlis. “I have lots of experience working alongside people of all races. There’s a black fella who works for my campaign—what’s his name?” said McCanlis, looking feverishly off stage for support. “Oh, you know the one I’m talking about. Sport?”
But after examining the employment records of the McCanlis campaign, reporters at the Bismarck Daily found that the Republican incumbent employs no minorities at all. McCanlis continued to stumble on follow-up questions during a public appearance at the North Dakota State Fair.
“Listen, I’m not racist. How could I be?” wondered McCanlis. “I have a black friend. There he is over there,” said McCanlis, waving vaguely at a group of African-American fair-goers. “I think.”
McCanlis grew defensive when asked by a reporter if he could visually identify this token black friend. “Could I pick him out of a line-up? No. But aren’t you the racist one for presuming he’d be in a line-up to begin with?”
According to childhood acquaintances, a black student did briefly attend McCanlis’ middle school, but they would hardly have been considered friends. School records reveal that the student was likely Craig Tate, now a graphic designer living in Los Angeles.
“Oh yeah, I remember Roy,” said Tate when reached for comment. “He always called me Black Craig. But it’s not like there was another Craig in our class. Now that I think back on it, he was definitely a racist.”
McCanlis has pledged to spend the entire weekend familiarizing himself with black culture by watching “those Spike Lee Madea movies.”
Whatever McCanlis is doing, however, it seems to be working. A recent Rasmussen poll found McCanlis’ lead over Bennet has only increased since his racially obtuse comments.
“Voters want a candidate who speaks to their experience,” explains Republican strategist Kristen Gale. “And not knowing any black people? Can’t get more North Dakota than that.”