“U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is in an unenviable position,” writes Jennifer Duffy for the Cook Political Report, “she is a Democrat sitting in a state that President Donald Trump carried by 36 points and is a member of a Senate minority doing everything in its power to oppose Trump and Senate Republicans.”
The report also notes Heitkamp’s narrow, 3,000-vote victory over “less than stellar” Republican candidate Rick Berg, and suggests should could have trouble replicating that victory in 2018.
But there are (at least) two parts of any given political race. Heitkamp won’t be running in a vacuum. She’ll be campaigning against one, and potentially more, opponents.
For now Heitkamp, who hasn’t officially announced a re-election campaign but has already raised millions (most from out of state), faces just one official challenger. State Senator Tom Campbell announced his campaign last week, but the prognosticators at Cook aren’t terribly impressed by his potential.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]”While Campbell isn’t as well known as Cramer, his profile as a successful businessman has some appeal to voters,” Duffy writes. “Now that Heitkamp has a credible opponent, the contest is in the Lean Democrat column, at least until Cramer announces whether he will run.”[/mks_pullquote]
They’ve flagged North Dakota’s at-large Congressman Kevin Cramer as a stronger potential challenger.
“While Campbell isn’t as well known as Cramer, his profile as a successful businessman has some appeal to voters,” Duffy writes. “Now that Heitkamp has a credible opponent, the contest is in the Lean Democrat column, at least until Cramer announces whether he will run.”
That jibes with the chatter in political circles in North Dakota. The consensus is that Cramer gives the NDGOP their best, if not their only, chance to take down the only Democrat to win a statewide election in the state since 2008.
The question is whether Cramer will actually run or not.
Last week I asked Cramer about former state lawmaker Ben Hanson who announced last week that he’s running for the House seat Cramer currently holds. “He’s not my challenger yet because I haven’t announced that I’m running,” Cramer told me (audio), correcting the way I referred to Hanson.
Cramer is obviously going to run for something in 2018. The question is if it’ll be for another term in the House, or a term in the Senate.
Most politicos I’m talking to these days expect Cramer to stay in the House. But Cook is right, he’s likely the best chance Republicans have to take on Heitkamp.
UPDATE: Larry Sabato’s forecasters are also seeing the Senate race lean in Heitkamp’s favor. “Despite North Dakota’s strong GOP lean, Democrats have actually won 11 of the state’s last 13 Senate contests, and we think Heitkamp deserves the benefit of the doubt,” they write. They had previously ranked the race a “toss up.”