Incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s decision to go all-in on being a Trump ally this election cycle is one hell of a gamble.
The risk is that she’ll alienate her left-wing base. We’ve already heard rumblings of that from our state’s Native American communities.
The risk is that it won’t be very believable. Remember that in the 2016 election cycle North Dakota Democrats were describing President Trump as “vile” and “unfit for office.” There’s also that video of Heitkamp screeching (there’s really not a better word for it) her support for candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The risk is that Trump himself will at some point descend on this Senate race and put Heitkamp’s narrative to bed.
Yet so far, the gamble is paying off for Heitkamp. She has conservative group aligned with the Koch brothers praising her. Cramer is in the middle of an increasingly ugly feud with White House legislative aid Marc Short.
Oh, and just yesterday Trump seemingly snubbed Cramer, announcing a campaign visit to Duluth later this month but not North Dakota.
The Cramer campaign tells me that Trump isn’t coming here because the scheduling doesn’t work. “I am not surprised that President Trump did not schedule North Dakota for next week,” campaign manager Pat Finken told me today. “Those dates don’t work for the Cramer Campaign. The House will be in session and may likely vote on the Farm Bill or Immigration Bill. There is no way Kevin would miss those important votes and the White House knows that.”
I’ll leave it to you readers to decide if that’s really why Trump isn’t coming to North Dakota or if it’s just an excuse.
Into this environment Heitkamp drops a new television ad touting the fact that she “made a lot of people mad” by voting with Trump more than 50 percent of the time:
I can’t help but admire the audacity.
Heitkamp is taking her left wing base for granted, assuming that they’ll still turn out and vote for her despite her election-year posturing as a Trump ally, and she’s probably right. She’s also betting on the feud between Cramer and the White House continuing.
Time will tell on that front.
There are some things worth pointing out, though. For one, Heitkamp started out her term in the Senate with an extremely liberal voting record. She’s only moved back toward the center as she’s gotten closer to election day as this data from Congressional Quarterly’s vote tracking database shows:
For another, although Heitkamp really has voted with Trump more than 50 percent of the time, there’s still a big gap between her votes and those of the least Trump-friendly Republican.
Senator Rand Paul votes with Trump nearly 75 percent of the time. Heitkamp is very Trump-friendly for a member of a party who thinks Trump is a tyrant. If voters care about how often their Senator votes for Trump’s agenda – and clearly Heitkamp and the Democrats believe that – then it follows that a Republican is going to vote with Trump a lot more often than Heitkamp ever will.
But those finer points are lost against Heitkamp’s “I’m pro-Trump” narrative for as long as Trump himself allows a vacuum in which Heitkamp and her media allies can sell it.