Earlier today Senator Heidi Heitkamp announced that she’s not running for governor in 2016 (during a call-in to a left wing radio show from Washington DC, if that didn’t make it obvious what her decision was).
First, let’s look at what this means on the right side of politics.
Republicans, even despite the controversy involving Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley which makes his candidacy unlikely, have a strong stock of candidates. It seems inevitable at this point that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem will get in the race. He’s a smart politician with a lot of respect across the state, and while he may not be as conservative as some would like, he also has a long history of getting elected on the statewide ballot with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Treasurer Kelly Schmidt, who also has a solid electoral track record on the statewide ballot, has also said she’s considering a run.
Even Doug Burgum, though he’d have to move to the right to hope to get the NDGOP’s endorsement, would be a solid candidate for Republicans in terms of winning. Assuming he runs as a Republican. He’s said that he wouldn’t rule out an independent run, but that seems unlikely given his long track record of supporting the North Dakota GOP.
As for Wrigley, he made a colossal mistake in engaging in an extra-marital affair. Copping to it now makes sense, but he’s going to have to sit out at least one political cycle if we are to believe what he says about protecting his family. One cannot subject their family to that sort of betrayal only to turn around and subject them to the intense, time-consuming scrutiny of a statewide election and be believable as a “family first” sort of person.
Which brings us to the left.
The governorship is going to remain in Republican hands unless Democrats can come up with a competitive candidate. Now that Heitkamp is out, who is that candidate?
Her brother Joel, to whom she made her announcement today, has been trying to manufacture rumors about the possibility that he’d run, but let’s be serious. I have about as much a chance of winning the Mr. Universe contest as Joel Heitkamp has of winning a statewide gubernatorial election. Let’s not waste any more time on self-referential rumors started by vain men looking to prop up slumping radio ratings.
So who does that leave? Former lawmaker Ryan Taylor, who ran for governor in 2012 (and lost) and agriculture commissioner in 2014 (and lost) doesn’t seem to be an inspiring pick even if he weren’t enjoying his new job as Rural Development Director for the USDA and had already said he wouldn’t run. State Senator George Sinner, who also lost his race for U.S. House with a lackluster 2014 campaign, also doesn’t exactly send a shiver down the spine.
An intriguing choice could be state Senator Mac Schneider, who is young and photogenic and articulate, but also elected of a very left-wing legislative district in Grand Forks and possesses a very left-wing voting record in the Legislature which would both be problematic in a statewide campaign. Also, Senator Schneider has said he won’t run.
Schneider’s cousin, Jasper Schneider, could also be the candidate. He was Taylor’s predecessor at the USDA and is now said to be enjoying a cushy private sector gig. He is a former lawmaker, almost won an Insurance Commissioner race in 2008, but he may have been too long out of the political spotlight at this point.
State Senator Erin Oban, whose victory in a Republican legislative district in Bismarck was pretty much the only Democrat gain in the state in the 2014 elections, is also a possibility but she’s just halfway through her first term in the Senate.
For Democrats, the list of potential candidates goes downhill from there. They’ll pick someone, to be sure, and we’ll all be obligated to carry on as though that candidate has a serious chance to win a straight-up race against someone like Stenehjem or Schmidt or Wrigley, but let’s face it. Heitkamp pretty much decided this race today.