Apparently CNN Is the Spot for Planted Stories About North Dakota Politics

Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton, gets some encouragement from Ryer Stark, owner of the Westside Drive Inn in Grafton, biting into the first Wagon Master burger of the season at the Grafton Drive Inn. Campbell was the sucessful bidder for the $1,600 burger made by Stark in a fundraising auction for the Unity Medical Center in Grafton. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The folks at CNN have taken an interest in North Dakota’s Senate race this cycle, and it’s clear they’re listening to some people with some serious agendas.

The cable news outlet is clearly being fed audio from Congressman Kevin Cramer’s appearances on talk radio shows in the state. Stories about his internet browser history and his ill-advised attempt at nuance in the Spicer/Hitler affair came from his frequent appearances on talk radio shows.

It’s a little hard to believe that CNN’s people just happen to be listening to radio broadcasts in North Dakota. Much more believable is that political operatives, probably working on behalf of the Democrats, are feeding this audio to CNN.

Which is fine. That’s how it works.

The latest CNN story about Cramer, though, was probably pitched by Republicans.

…in 2017 Campbell wants it known that he will run for the U.S. Senate, and a CNN story about how some in Republican circles would prefer Campbell to Cramer – a story in which the only named source is a political consultant who just happens to work for Campbell – sure seems like a very clumsy way to send that message.

In North Dakota political circles state Senator Tom Campbell (R-Grafton) is known as a very nice man who is prone to letting his ambitions get the best of him. Campbell has been adamant for years now that he wants to move up the political ladder to higher office. Back in 2015 he was posturing around a run for governor, though exasperated political insiders said he never really intended to run.

Last year, when speculation was rampant about Cramer possibly vacating his House seat to join the Trump administration, Campbell told me he’d “absolutely” run for that seat in a special election.

Now in 2017 Campbell wants it known that he will run for the U.S. Senate, and a CNN story about how some in Republican circles would prefer Campbell to Cramer – a story in which the only named source is a political consultant who just happens to work for Campbell – sure seems like a very clumsy way to send that message.

“Top Republicans in Washington are privately sending this message to a GOP congressman once viewed as a top recruit in North Dakota: Don’t run against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp next year,” CNN reports.

The Hill has picked up the story as well under the headline, “Report: GOP pressuring House rep to stay out of race against Heitkamp.”

Senator Heidi Heitakmp, the incumbent in this race, has to be delighted by this intra-GOP spat.

For what it’s worth, I spent this afternoon and evening making phone calls and sending texts to my sources in North Dakota and Washington D.C. political circles.

The word from them? Nobody is trying to pressure Cramer to stay out of the Senate race.

But there does seem to be a consensus that the CNN story was Campbell’s doing.

“Everyone that has sent that to me says ‘a total setup by Campbells consultant’,” one NDGOP insider told me.

“He played that game in the governor’s race,” another state Republican told me, referring to Campbell’s aforementioned maneuvering in the 2016 cycle. “He would always say people were secretly encouraging him to run.”

I tried to reach Campbell all afternoon and evening for comment. He didn’t respond to phone calls or messages.

By the way, from my perspective it’s looking less and less likely that Cramer will run. Taking on Heitkamp is a big gamble, especially how clear Democrats have made it that they’ll target Cramer in a big, big way.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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