North Dakota Republicans are getting low on options when it comes to getting control of the one seat elected on the statewide ballot they don’t control.
Right now the only official Republican challenger to incumbent Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp is state Senator Tom Campbell, but he’s widely (and rightly) seen as a long shot. Other potential challengers such as SBHE Member Kathy Neset and Border States Electric CEO Tammy Miller have declined to run.
The last best hope for Republicans to get an aggressive, credible challenger in the race is U.S. House incumbent Kevin Cramer. But he’s been reticent about announcing his plans and, as of this morning, seems perhaps less likely to run than ever.
According to a report in Politico’s Morning Energy email, Cramer may be getting a promotion on a consequential committee covering an area important to North Dakota, and he says that makes his decision to run for the Senate tougher:
SEEKING A PROMOTION? North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer tells ME the departures of three senior Energy and Commerce members — Joe Barton, Tim Murphy and Marsha Blackburn — may offer him a chance to move up on the panel and will factor into his decision on whether to challenge Sen. Heidi Heitkamp . “It all becomes part of a formula to make a difficult decision more difficult,” he said. “It’s a factor that I’m considering for sure. We only have one member from an entire state. Influence matters all the more … Whereas a new senator is a new senator even if you used to be a congressman. That is definitely part of the calculation.”
If Cramer squares off against Heitkamp it would be a veritable clash of North Dakota political titans. It would be a match-up for the ages. At the very least a rich vein of content for political writers like me.
But from Cramer’s point of view, it’s a big risk. Heitkamp is no chump. She’s one of the most skilled and power hungry politicians North Dakota has ever produced, and she’s willing to be absolutely vicious on the campaign trail as we saw during the 2012 cycle when she was first elected to the Senate.
Could Cramer beat her? Sure. But he might not. Whereas staying in the House means almost certain re-election for Cramer given how North Dakota Democrats have struggled to find credible statewide candidates not named Heidi Heitkamp for going on a decade now.
As much as North Dakota Republicans want to defeat Heitkamp, it would be hard to choose Cramer for a sure-thing re-election to a chamber where his influence is growing rapidly.
But Cramer is certainly getting plenty of national pressure to get into the Senate race. Earlier this week on Fox News Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, chairman of the NRSC, said Cramer leads Heitkamp in polling and would win an election against her if it was held today (pertinent segment starts at about the 1:56 mark):
Cramer also just hired a new communications director for his office. Jason Stverak, a former executive director of the NDGOP, had a stint with Cramer’s office previously. He’s a strong political guy with a deep knowledge of North Dakota. He’s the sort of person you want working in your shop if you’re, say, thinking about launching a campaign against a tough incumbent.
Full disclosure: Stverak founded the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity which I worked for previously.