“Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he’s enjoyed working for the people of North Dakota at their at-large congressman and has also sought to remain as accessible as possible,” reported the Bismarck Tribune earlier this week. “He said accessibility equates to providing accountability to the people, something he plans to continue to do if elected to a second term.”
According to Cramer himself: “While I may not have all the answers … North Dakotans, the majority of the time, do.”
Cramer was widely seen as potentially vulnerable this election year. He trends a lot more conservative than the rest of North Dakota’s delegation, and he has a tendency to be pretty blunt about his views. “Recklessly honest” as a reporter in the state put it to me way back in 2010, which I think is about the most perfect and succinct description of Cramer I’ve ever heard. Many were worried that Cramer might not be able to fight off a Demcorat challenge this year, especially with his being alone at the top of the ballot with no Senate or gubernatorial race to take some of the attention away.
But Cramer seems poised to cruise to election day with few problems. Despite bold talk late last year about challengers lining up to take Cramer on, we’re now in the middle of February, and his only challenger is a Libertarian Party candidate. State Senator George Sinner, widely seen as Cramer’s inevitable challenger from Democrats, still can’t figure out if he wants to run or not.
A key to Cramer’s success, as the quote above illustrates, has been his openness with North Dakotans. I talk with a lot of political people in North Dakota – elected officials, political professionals and your average voters – and it’s remarkable to me how often they give Cramer credit for his town halls and media availability. Cramer has held well over a dozen town halls all over the state, each of them wide open to the public, and appears weekly on the What’s On Your Mind program, a statewide syndicated talk radio show, for an hour of open phones.
This runs in stark contrast Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp. While Hoeven does very little in the way of outreach to constituents, Heitkamp tries, but most of her efforts are little more than social media gimmicks that seem aimed more at boosting her “likes” and followers than accountability in front of the public.
Heitkamp has run two Twitter town halls, despite the fact that North Dakotans are some of the least likely in the nation to use Twitter and Heitkamp herself has a lot of fake followers, and now she’s announced a Facebook town hall. But there’s a catch: “Those interested must become a fan of Heitkamp’s Facebook page to be a part of the chat.”
So, in order to engage in a highly filtered and moderated conversation with your Senator, you have to boost Heitkamp’s Facebook following.
During her victorious 2012 campaign, Heitkamp outworked and out-charmed Republican opponent Rick Berg by getting in front of North Dakota voters and making them like her. But governing is different than campaigning, and since being elected Heitkamp doesn’t seem as interested in connecting directly with voters.
Enough with the gimmicks, Senator Heitkamp. Don’t just give us the appearance of accountability. Come to our towns, stand before us, and let us engage.