Forecast Sees Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s Re-Election as a “Coin Flip”


North Dakota Senator elect Heidi Heitkamp (right) reacts to seeing her sister Thomasine Heitkamp at a rally Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 in Grand Forks, N.D. The two sisters hadn't seen each other since Heidi had won election to the U.S. Senate.JOHN STENNES

It’s very, very early to be talking about the 2018 election cycle, and thanks to Trump having upended conventional wisdom in American politics, forecasting outcomes is going to be harder than ever.

Trump is probably going to have historically weak approval numbers for a President going into his first mid-term election, and typically a weak President means weakened electoral chances for his party, but will that matter? Because, you know, it’s Trump. He spent the entirety of the 2016 election season defying expectations.

Anyway, the big question here in North Dakota is the U.S. Senate race. Heidi Heitkamp will be at the end of her term. Will she seek re-election? According to scuttlebutt I’m hearing from Washington D.C., not even Heitkamp’s staff knows whether or not she’ll run again.

Heitkamp barely won election to her current term over Republican Rick Berg by a margin of just a few thousand votes. Since then her state political party has been rendered almost non-existent in state government, and in 2016 she will certainly face a very strong challenge from Republicans.

Which is probably why the political prognosticators under Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics see Heitkamp as one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents in the Senate.

“Any discussion of 2018’s Senate races have to start with the five Democratic incumbents who hold seats in states that Trump won by at least 18 points apiece last year: Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Joe Manchin (D-WV),” writes Kyle Kondik:

Donnelly and McCaskill lucked out in 2012 when each faced GOP opponents who submarined their campaigns with extremely controversial statements on abortion. Presumably the Democrats will face stronger opposition from more competent candidates this time. Heitkamp, meanwhile, only won by about a point in 2012 and appears to be in for another hard race. These contests all start as coin flips.

The article identifies Heitkamp’s only real advantage as incumbency.

For what it’s worth, the article also mentioned Rep. Kevin Cramer as a potential challenger for Heitkamp. That’s something I believe to be very likely.

The big difference between North Dakota and some of these other states, though, is that Heitkamp is really the only Democrat in North Dakota with a shot at holding onto that seat. The state Democratic party is in such rough shape that if Heitkamp doesn’t run Democrats would be essentially handing that seat over to Republicans.

Which is something that probably makes it more likely she’ll run. If there were some up-and-coming liberal in North Dakota politics who could run in Heitkamp’s place I think it’s likely she would retire. But that person doesn’t exist.

Which, in turn, means Heitkamp is probably going to run in 2018, making that election season one of the most intense and ugly and expensive our state has ever seen.