This Is Why Heidi Heitkamp Is Playing Patty Cake With Donald Trump


FILE -- Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), exits the lobby of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Dec. 2, 2016. Though Donald Trump has yet to name a Democrat to his Cabinet, Heitkamp is said to be a top contender to lead the Department of Agriculture — a posting that would also trigger a special election to fill her Senate seat. (Sam Hodgson/The New York Times)

In my Sunday print column I pointed out the strange reality of Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp playing nicey nice with President Donald Trump. A man her (admittedly tiny) left wing political base here in North Dakota thinks of as some sort of a tyrant with a soft spot for white supremacists.

Heitkamp flew with the President on Air Force One to his recent event in Mandan. She stood on stage for him and mugged for the crowd while Trump teased her. Just last night she attended a dinner at the White House with Trump to talk turkey on tax reform.

What could inspire Heitkamp to do such a thing? Her political instincts, which as usual are spot-on. Across the nation Democrats may hate Trump even more than they hated George W. Bush (which is saying something), but research conducted for Democrats shows that our liberal friends are wrong to assume that the President’s low approval numbers are going to translate into big electoral gains:

Data from a range of focus groups and internal polls in swing states paint a difficult picture for the Democratic Party heading into the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election. It suggests that Democrats are naive if they believe Trump’s historically low approval numbers mean a landslide is coming. The party is defending 10 Senate seats in states that Trump won and needs to flip 24 House seats to take control of that chamber.

The research, conducted by private firms and for Democratic campaign arms, is rarely made public but was described to POLITICO in interviews with a dozen top operatives who’ve been analyzing the results coming in.

“If that’s the attitude that’s driving the Democratic Party, we’re going to drive right into the ocean,” said Anson Kaye, a strategist at media firm GMMB who worked on the Obama and Clinton campaigns and is in conversations with potential clients for next year.

Worse news, they worry: Many of the ideas party leaders have latched on to in an attempt to appeal to their lost voters — free college tuition, raising the minimum wage to $15, even Medicaid for all — test poorly among voters outside the base. The people in these polls and focus groups tend to see those proposals as empty promises, at best.

Combine that news with the fact that Trump is more popular in North Dakota than just about any other state in the union and what you get is a junior Senator on the verge of a re-election campaign for a second term who must play with Republicans.

At least until election day.

Heitkamp, ever the astute opportunist, knows what she has to do.