Despite Heitkamp Trailing in the Polls National Democrats Make North Dakota’s Senate Seat a “Second Tier” Race


FILE -- From left: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) confer during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 12, 2018. Heitkamp, Donnelly and other red-state Democratic senators up for election this year are in a difficult bind over the open Supreme Court seat. (Tom Brenner/The New York Times)

Based on the publicly available polling data we have in North Dakota’s Senate race it sure looks like Heidi Heitkamp is running for re-election from behind. Since February three out of four public polls from a variety of sources have shown Heitkamp’s challenger, Congressman Kevin Cramer, with a consistent lead in the 4 – 5 percentage point range:

Yet despite this situation the Senate Majority PAC, a political action committee Democrats use to campaign for their Senate candidates, is prioritizing spending on Democratic candidates running on other “red” states won by President Donald Trump in 2016.

U.S. News & World Report reporter Dave Catanese points out that it appears as though Heitkamp’s race has been put on the back burner as we enter the home stretch of campaign season:


He links to an article in the New York Times headlines “To Take the Senate, Democratic Group Will Spend Big in Red States.” While North Dakota is one of the red states where the PAC is going to spend, it’s not a priority state for the group according to the Times:

Senate Majority PAC, the principal “super PAC” supporting Democratic efforts to capture the chamber, intends to steer at least $20 million into the voter-mobilization campaign ahead of the midterm elections, officials with the group confirmed. The program, which follows a similar — successful — Democratic effort in Alabama last year, underscores the degree to which outside groups that can take massive donations have supplanted the traditional role of political parties.

The initiative by Senate Majority PAC — which will run through an affiliated nonprofit group, Majority Forward — will span more than a dozen states where Senate seats are at stake. But it is to focus on four states above all: Missouri and Indiana, where endangered Democrats are seeking re-election, and Arizona and Tennessee, where strong Democratic challengers are running for open seats currently held by Republicans.

North Dakota’s race gets a mention toward the end of the article as a sort of also-ran:

In addition to those four states, the Senate Majority PAC field operation will also cover nine others, including North Dakota, Wisconsin and Montana, where Democratic senators are defending their seats in states President Trump won, and Nevada, where Senator Dean Heller appears to be the lone Republican incumbent at grave risk of losing his seat.

What’s going on here?

Are Democrats so supremely confident in Heitkamp winning that they’re putting her race on the back burner? “When you are 4 down, that’s not it,” one long time political observer I was discussing this story with told me, referring to the aforementioned polling.

That leaves us with the opposite, that Democrats are putting Heitkamp on the back burner and focusing on other races. Sort of a triage move.

I’m not sure how much stock to put in that analysis. The political situation around this time in an election cycle begins to become very fluid, and things can shift very quickly. It’s not that hard for these political groups to shift their spending strategies as needed.

But at this moment in time? This probably isn’t good news for Heitkamp.

For what it’s worth, this political action committee has already run some ads (of dubious veracity) for Heitkamp this cycle.