Expect Trump to Turn up the Heat on Vulnerable Senator Heidi Heitkamp During North Dakota Visit

Donald Trump, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, speaks during a news conference in Bismarck, N.D., May 26, 2016. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

News broke yesterday that President Donald Trump will be visiting the Bismarck/Mandan area next week. It will be Trump’s second visit to North Dakota in the last two years, and his first as a sitting President.

It’ll also be the first visit to North Dakota by a sitting President since Barack Obama went to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in 2014.

We don’t know where, specifically, Trump will be visiting. Rumor is that it might be the refinery there. Senator John Hoeven has said that a specific venue hasn’t been finalized yet, but that they want an energy-themed backdrop for the speech.

As much as Democrats in North Dakota may loathe Trump, they probably can’t expect to win any statewide elections in North Dakota by campaigning against him.

One thing we can expect, though, is that Trump will probably look to turn up the heat on Senator Heidi Heitkamp during his visit.

He did something similar to Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill during his recent visit to Missouri. McCaskill, like Heitkamp, is viewed as a moderate facing an uncertain re-election campaign. Plus, Trump has a lot of incentive to beat up on Heitkamp a bit.

For one thing, it’ll likely soften up any resistance to Trump’s agenda she may be considering between now and election day. Already Republicans are investing a lot into painting Heitkamp as an anti-Trump obstructionist. Trump is very popular in North Dakota, and Heitkamp can’t afford to be too aggressive in opposing him. Not with an election looming.

For another Rep. Kevin Cramer – a consistent Trump ally and an early Congressional endorser of his campaign during the 2016 election – is considering a run for Heitkamp’s Senate seat. Conventional wisdom in North Dakota political circles these days is that Cramer will stay put in the House. But then, Cramer is anything but a conventional politician, so I wouldn’t rule anything out until he makes an announcement one way or another.

A SAB reader who is a long-time veteran of political campaigns in this state told me Trump, back when he was the President-elect, did Heitkamp a big favor by considering her for his cabinet. I agree with that. The junior Senator works very hard to cultivate a centrist reputation. Trump thinking about putting her in his cabinet burnished that reputation to no small degree.

But Trump taking some shots at Heitkamp will go a long way toward changing that perception with the public.

What can Heitkamp and the Democrats do if Trump does take some rhetorical pot shots? Probably the same thing as Senator McCaskill, which is not much. As much as Democrats in North Dakota may loathe Trump, they probably can’t expect to win any statewide elections in North Dakota by campaigning against him.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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