Heidi Heitkamp, Party Switcher?

At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey says the Keystone debacle may have a couple of Senate Democrats “on the radar” for switching sides.

“Even the Democratic leadership in the Senate left Landrieu twisting in the wind, which prompted public disgust from Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp, two Democrats that might be on the GOP radar for party switching in the next few weeks as committee assignments solidify,” writes Morrissey.

That’s more than a little unlikely. For all Heitkamp posturing as a middle-of-the-road conservative Democrat, anyone who pays close attention to her actions can see that she’s solidly liberal (her voting record lining up with Obama’s agenda 97 percent of the time is proof enough of that). However frustrated Heitkamp may be with the situation in Washington DC, at the end of the day she’s a true-blue liberal.

But there is something to be said about the circumstances Heitkamp finds herself in. The future is not looking bright for someone like Heitkamp who must strike a delicate balance as a left-of-center Senator representing a right-of-center state.

Heitkamp had to be thinking about her narrow margin of victory in 2012 – her margin of victory was less than 1 percent of the vote against a Republican candidate who is widely acknowledged to have run a bumbling campaign – as she watched Mary Landrieu get thrown to the wolves. The stars may have aligned for Heitkamp to win a seat in the Senate in 2012, but there are no assurances the same would be true in 2018. North Dakota Republicans have a deep bench of candidates, and Democrats haven’t won a victory on the statewide ballot since 2008.

Rather than switching parties, though, a more likely path forward for Heitkamp would be a return to North Dakota to run as governor in 2016.

This has been much rumored, and I’ve written about it before, but it has to be an intriguing option for Heitkamp who Democrats tell me never really wanted to run for federal office in the first place.

If Governor Jack Dalrymple declines to run again in 2016 it would leave a vacuum to be filled with stiff competition among multiple NDGOP potentials (Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, and NDGOP Party Chairman Bob Harms are names regularly thrown around). Heitkamp, meanwhile, would face little competition from inside her party (let’s face it, Heitkamp is really the only really strong statewide candidate ND Dems have these days).

If Heitkamp won she could appoint her own replacement. If she lost, she could return to the Senate for the final two years of her term, though she’d be left with a serious wound heading into her 2018 re-election bid.

Or she could stay right where she’s at until 2018 and hope that, when she’s facing what is sure to be a stiff challenge from Republicans, that her national party is more kind to her than they were to Landrieu.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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