Democratic Governor's Association Says They Don't Expect Heitkamp To Run In 2016

heidi heitkamp

With North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple announcing that he’ll be stepping down at the end of his current term the state is facing its first open gubernatorial race since 2000 when John Hoeven (with Dalrymple as his running mate) was elected.

Thoughts now turn to who will be running in 2016, and for Democrats the name at the top of the list is Senator Heidi Heitkamp who ran for governor in 2000 but lost.

It’s anyone’s guess whether or not Heitkamp will run. My feeling is, after talking to friends in Democrat circles, that Heitkamp probably hasn’t made up her mind yet. I suspect that Heitkamp is going to do some heavy polling of North Dakota voters now that they know Dalrymple definitely won’t be governor after 2016, and I suspect that polling will inform her decision in no small way.

But the umbrella group for Democrat gubernatorial campaigns nationally says that while they would like Heitkamp to run, they don’t expect her to (emphasis mine):

In February, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, expressed enthusiasm about the possibility of a Heitkamp run, saying, “Heidi is a rock star and we’d love to see her run.” But the association isn’t expecting her to take the plunge, with one aide saying, “I don’t think any of us really expect her to do it, but it’s not impossible.”

The problem for national Democrats, if Heitkamp runs for governor, is that she is probably giving up her seat to a Republican. If Heitkamp runs and loses she has to run again for her Senate seat in 2018 after getting rejected by voters on the statewide ballot, six years after winning with barely 50 percent of the vote in 2012.

If she runs and wins she doesn’t get to appoint her own replacement thanks to legislation backed by Rep. Roscoe Streyle of Minot which passed earlier this year. Given that, once you get past Heitkamp, Democrats have a very thin bench of credible statewide candidates (more on that in a moment) it seems unlikely that the liberals could hold Heitkamp’s vacated Senate seat in a special election.

I can’t imagine that national Democrats, who need four seats to take back the Senate in the 2016 cycle, want Heitkamp to move the threshold to five seats.

The problem for North Dakota Democrats, though, is who else are they going to run for governor? Look at the list of names they’re throwing around:

“Before this announcement, we had been aggressively recruiting candidates for our ticket all the way from the top of the ticket to the bottom, and from our perspective this decision does not impact that work that we are doing,” said Robert Haider, the executive director of the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party. Haider pointed to U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon, state Sen. Mac Schneider, and state Sen. George B. Sinner, the son of former Democratic Gov. George A. Sinner, as some of the party’s potential recruits outside of Heitkamp.

Sinner ran a clumsy House campaign against Republican incumbent Kevin Cramer in 2014…and got just 38 percent of the vote.

Earlier this year Purdon bailed on his presidential appointment as U.S. Attorney of North Dakota to take a cushy gig with a private sector law firm. Not exactly an inspiring resume.

Schneider is probably the most likely of those three potential candidates, but he’s also a left-wing lawmaker from one of the most liberal legislative districts in the state. He’s about as effective a leader of a thoroughly marginalized Senate caucus as Democrats could expect, but it’s hard to see him having a lot of appeal to voters statewide. Especially when voters statewide are most likely to know him from his shrill pronouncements on oil development.