Heidi Heitkamp Can't Afford Too Much Independence


Betsy Woodruff has an article up this morning at National Review covering the balancing act red-state Democrats like Senator Heidi Heitkamp must pull off to both appease their right-of-center constituencies while not angering their national liberal supporters.

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley blasted Heitkamp after she voted against gun control legislation, calling for his $2,500 contribution to her campaign back and urging other national liberals to pull their support from candidates like Heitkamp in the future.

As Woodruff points out in her article, citing me on fundraising by North Dakota Democrats, that can be a dangerous proposition:

As things stand, national Democrats haven’t been kind to the freshman prairie populist. Bill Daley, White House chief of staff in 2011–12, wrote a biting op-ed in the Washington Post shortly after the vote expressing regret at having supported Heitkamp. One line in particular could make members of Camp Heitkamp uncomfortable: “I’ll have some advice for my friends in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles: Just say no to the Democrats who said no on background checks.”

That could be especially problematic for Heitkamp because North Dakotans are none too generous with political contributions. Thus most politicians in the state rely on outside support. The North Dakota Democratic party, according to political blogger Rob Port, got more than three-quarters of its support from out of state last year. So that’s one factor North Dakota Democrats have to bear in mind when balancing political ambitions with state loyalty.

According to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s website, in the 2012 campaign year the North Dakota Democrat party received $2.1 million of their $2.7 million in reported contributions from out of state (they only had $6,547.80 of below-$200 contributions which didn’t have to be documented).

That means 77.6% of the Democrats’ funding came from out of state.

Heitkamp’s campaign was also very dependent on out-of-state contributions. According to OpenSecrets.org, 80% of Heitkamp’s funds came from out-of-state donors (and that’s not counting the millions liberal interests such as Majority Leader Harry Reid’s super PAC spent supporting her race). Her opponent, Rick Berg, wasn’t a whole lot better at 71% but then Berg wasn’t the one campaigning on bucking his national party.

Senator Heitkamp is still a long ways off from a re-election campaign. The better part of a decade away, in fact, so it’s doubtful that this specific issue will hurt her too much.

But it does illustrate how Heitkamp will, eventually, have to govern to a degree in line with her left-wing national party, because without fundraising support from national liberals both Heitkamp and her state party can’t hope to compete.