“You may have missed it, but ND’s 2018 Senate race has begun,” read the headline for my Sunday print column.
As evidence of just how right I was, consider that someone is now leaking big fundraising numbers for Heitkamp to the national press.
“North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat up for re-election in 2018 and one of the Republican Party’s top targets, raised $1.6 million in the first quarter of 2017, a person close to her campaign,” Politico reports.
That’s a big number, as the article points out:
Her haul in the first three months of Donald Trump’s administration represents more than any other North Dakota senator or senatorial candidate has raised in the first quarter of a campaign off-year. Her delegation colleague, Republican Sen. John Hoeven, brought in $1.39 million in the first quarter of his first statewide Senate campaign in 2010, but that came in the election year itself.
The disclosure suggests Heitkamp, who will run in a state Trump won by 36 points, is attempting a show of force ahead of what’s likely to be a long and bruising campaign. While the first-term lawmaker has yet to formally announce her bid, she is widely expected to run. The only Democrat elected statewide in North Dakota since 2008, Heitkamp is well-known back home.
The fundraising quarter just ended on March 31, and Heitkamp’s campaign hasn’t filed anything with the FEC since her 2016 end-of-the-year report in January.
It’s pretty clear that someone wanted Heitkamp’s fundraising numbers to make headlines. I’m guessing it was Heitkamp herself, through one of her campaign staffers, or someone in the Democratic party structure who really, really wants her to run for re-election.
Officially Heitkamp is undecided about 2018. “I haven’t locked down what my plans are,” she told the Grand Forks Herald last month. “There’s always considerations that go into this decision, and mostly it’s personal. If I started out being afraid to take risk and chance politically, I wouldn’t be sitting at this table here.”
But unofficially? It’s almost a certainty that Heitkamp will run again.
Democrats are going to lean on her to re-up for another term because, if she steps down from the Senate seat, the Democrats really have nobody else who could win that race in the state’s current political atmosphere. Remember, Heitkamp is the only Democrat to win an election on North Dakota’s statewide ballot since the 2008 cycle.
Plus, Heitkamp stepping down pretty much means the end of her political career. Where else would she go but into retirement? The only state level office Heitkamp might consider running for is Governor, and Doug Burgum just won that seat with almost 70 percent of the vote statewide.
Between Heitkamp has been talking nice about President Donald Trump who got 64 percent of the North Dakota vote in November. Trump is “a little like me,” she said recently, adding that a Hillary Clinton win in November would have made her political live “harder.”
“It means that I don’t have to spend time defending somebody else’s agenda. I can talk about what I want to get done,” she said of Clinton’s loss.
And all that was before Heitkamp said she’d be voting for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
Plus Heitkamp’s political allies, like Planned Parenthood, have been ramping up their attacks on Congressman Kevin Cramer (her likely opponent this cycle).
I’d be willing to lay down a bet saying Heitkamp will be announcing a re-election bid sometime this summer.