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McFeely: Recently branded obsolete by GOP, Jaeger back in the game

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger sits at his desk in Bismarck. Submitted photo1 / 3
Mike McFeely, Oct. 17, 2015Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Will Gardner3 / 3

If Al Jaeger had a wisp of vengefulness—or pride—in his 74-year-old bones, he'd tell North Dakota's Republican Party to take a long hike down a short trail.

The party deemed Jaeger too old and too archaic to be secretary of state any longer and it traded him in for a younger, more tech-savvy, more God-fearing model.

Then the new guy got caught with his hand in the ... well, somewhere ... and now the GOP needs Ol' Al again.

"No thanks," is what Jaeger should've said when his rotary-dial phone rang last weekend with news that his presumed successor, Will Gardner, was caught a dozen years ago peeping in college girls' windows at North Dakota State University. "You can find your own way out of this mess. I'm going to retire and finally have time to watch Ed Sullivan on my new 19-inch color television set. Maybe I'll listen to Johnny Mathis on this newfangled 8-track player, too. Imagine music emanating from a tape machine. Amazing!"

At least that's the way I picture Jaeger reacting to overtures from Republican Party Chairman Rick Berg to ride in and save the day, mostly because that's how a good chunk of the party painted Al prior to booting him out the door at the state convention last month.

Gardner was the techie hot-shot representative of the Christian conservative/libertarian wing of the party who was going to overhaul the dusty secretary of state's office while Jaeger, a longtime establishment party soldier, was the doddering old man who—gasp!—didn't even have a campaign website.

It appears nobody in the juggernaut GOP machine, however, thought to ask the young gun whether there was anything in his past that might end up on the front page of the state's largest newspaper.

If they had, and if Will would've answered honestly, they'd have found Gardner was caught in 2006 very purposefully sneaking around a women's dorm at NDSU and peeking into several ground-floor windows "with his face right up to the glass," according to the police report. He also had his pants unzipped, even though it was a brisk January day. He clearly tried to mislead the cops while answering their questions and initially refused to give his name. At least he didn't say Bluto Blutarsky.

Since Will was 29 years old, married and had two kids at the time he was playing Crouching Tiger around a freshman female dorm, it appears he knew what he was doing would not be looked upon kindly.

But neither Berg nor anybody else in North Dakota's super-majority party thought to ask such a simple question and here we are, with Gardner dropping out of the race and Jaeger willing to enter as an independent who will get support from the GOP. It's up to Al to ride in on the white horse and give Republicans a shot at defeating Democrat Josh Boschee, who suddenly has a chance at a monumental upset victory in a glowing-red state.

While Jaeger is probably the GOP's best bet, it won't make his campaign any less awkward. Last month, the party roundly rejected Jaeger as a dinosaur whose time had passed. Al clearly wanted to keep the job he's had since 1993, but the party told him he wasn't keeping up with the times and wasn't qualified any longer.

After delegates voted solidly for Gardner to be their nominee, Jaeger indicated he might challenge in the June primary. That's when party leaders like Berg pulled him aside and told him to ride off into the sunset gracefully. Berg and the party thanked Jaeger for his years of service—and put him out to pasture without so much as a gold watch.

Thanks for the memories, Al. Now get lost, old man.

Now Republicans have to act like they love him again, because their Chosen One is a creepy creeper creep.

If Jaeger is offended by being a distant second choice who was framed by his own party as hopelessly obsolete a little over a month ago, he's not showing it. Loyalty, or something, is a dangerous drug. The 8-tracks can wait. GOPers are hoping the campaign website can't, although things didn't turn out so well for the hotshot candidate who had one.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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