For Senate candidates in North Dakota, talk radio is a major go-to platform to get opinions and political views into the mainstream. Scott Hennen, host of "What's on Your Mind" on several stations in the state, says that the format "absolutely moves the needle on political issues, given the nature of its audience. These people are the most engaged, very often influential, they want to stay on top of what's happening.”
Rep. Kevin Cramer decided to run for the U.S. Senate this year, and turned to Hennen to emcee his campaign announcement, according to a story in Fargo, ND-based In Forum.
Likewise, in Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's first ad of the campaign season, her brother and talk radio’s Joel Heitkam—host of “News and Views" on Midwest Communications talk “The Mighty 790” KFGO Fargo—described her as a "great senator." During one of her frequent appearances on Joel's show, she announced her bid for a second term in the U.S. Senate.
“Political preferences are nothing new in talk radio but hosts like Hennen and Heitkamp are playing a public role in one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the country. And voices could help influence the contest,” the newspaper reports.
Brian Rosenwald, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania, said in the story that talk radio is "part of the fabric of the culture" in rural states where many people are in front of radios in a truck or tractor during the day. "In a place like that, there's a friendship between listeners and their favorite hosts. There's a bond," he said. "To them, this is their buddy who they spend all these hours with a week who's telling them about this race."
Cramer adds to the discussion that appearing regularly on radio talk shows gives him a chance to explain issues to constituents and hear their concerns. "It is unfiltered and it's more personality driven," Cramer said. And Heitkamp's campaign said she "prioritizes in-person meetings, conversations with real journalists and interviews in which she can talk with the highest number of people in our state."
Radio also gives candidates the opportunity to speak for themselves. Heitkamp notes, "If I have any kind of concern, it really is not so much with radio, it's with commentary that is completely biased being published every day in the largest newspapers in the state.”
Hennen calls radio an "opportunity to come on and compare notes" with what he called a conservative audience that represents the state's political leanings. "It isn't about advocacy for one candidate, it's about sharing what you believe," he said. "My role is to have a conversation and a discussion about what they care about."