North Dakota’s Senate race is heating up for Republicans.
Congressman Kevin Cramer is considering a Senate run, and state Senator Tom Campbell of Grafton (who will be on my radio show this afternoon) is officially in the race and campaigning hard. Also considering Senate bids are state Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck, former Congressman Rick Berg of Fargo, and State Board of Higher Education member Kathy Neset (who earned a lot of buzz at Trump’s speech yesterday).
Now I can report that Border States Electric CEO Tammy Miller is considering a bid. She’s been the target of recruitment efforts by NDGOP officials for weeks now, but when I contacted her this afternoon she said she hasn’t made a decision yet.
“I have been approached by friends, business associates and Republican party leaders of North Dakota to consider a run for the United States Senate. I have not made a decision, however, I appreciate their belief in my skills and abilities,” she told me in a statement. “Giving back, finding ways to serve the community and public affairs have always been interests of mine. I, like most Americans, am concerned about the future of our country, so as I approach my retirement from Border States, I am weighing options to continue to serve and give back. I plan to make my decision by November.”
Miller would be a very strong candidate if she entered the race. The story of her successful leadership at Border States is compelling. For those of you who don’t know, that company is a billion dollar operation and one of the largest employee-owned companies in the nation. Miller has grown it significantly since she took over as CEO in 2006 (she has worked for the company since 1991).
You have to think that someone in Miller’s position would have little trouble raising money (it’ll be needed because Heitkamp already has over $3 million sitting in her campaign account), and with that back story she’s going to have a lot of appeal to North Dakota voters. Particularly in this political environment where the state’s voters seem to have a big appetite for candidates with extensive business backgrounds from outside the traditional political backgrounds.
Think Governor Doug Burgum and President Donald Trump, both of whom earned landslide levels of votes on North Dakota’s ballot last year.
As an added wrinkle, I know that Miller is close friends with Berg. I wonder if her candidacy means it’s less likely that he’ll run for office. Tom Nelson, who works at Border States as a communications director and facilitated getting Miller’s statement to me, served as Berg’s state director during his term in the House.
Time will tell. I’m not sure there was ever a big appetite among Republicans for a rematch between Berg and Heitkamp after the former lost a heartbreaker campaign to the latter back in 2012.
Anyway, I wrote a print column a couple of weeks back pointing out that Campbell jumping in against Heitkamp had prompted national political prognosticators to shift their calculation of the race in the favor of the Democrats. I’ve got to think that if candidates of the caliber of people like Miller and Neset and perhaps even Cramer jump those forecasts will tilt back toward Republicans.