Heidi Heitkamp Says She'll Make Governor Race Decision "Sooner Rather Than Later"


Not exactly breaking news as it was pretty obvious, after Governor Jack Dalrymple’s announced resignation earlier this week, that she was going to have to make a decision one way or another soon. But, for what it’s worth:

“I know that there is a need for me to say, to actually make this decision so that others who might be considering it in the Democratic Party can have the most amount of time,” she said in a phone interview with Forum News Service.

Heitkamp said she doesn’t have a timeline for her decision, but added, “It’ll be sooner rather than later.”

Heitkamp said a race against Dalrymple would have been “extraordinarily difficult,” adding, “I wouldn’t be as forthcoming as I’d like to be if I said that Jack’s departure was totally irrelevant.”She said she now must weigh what’s best for her family and where she can best serve the interest of North Dakotans, noting there are many issues hanging in Congress right now, including a long-term transportation funding bill.

“There’s just so many issues, including the Fargo diversion, where there is a huge intersection between the interest of North Dakota and decisions that are made in Washington, D.C.,” she said.

Heitkamp says the wishes of national Democrats are “are the furthest thing from my mind” in terms of her probably abandoning her Senate seat to Republicans should she run, but that’s just posturing.

Of course national Democrats want her to staying the Senate, and of course that’s going to be a big part of her calculus when it comes to running.

But the larger question for Heitkamp is whether or not she can win, because this is a major gamble. If she wins she can close out her political career in the office she’s coveted since she ran for it and lost in 2000, but she’s probably giving up her Senate seat since a) thanks to a law passed earlier this year she can’t appoint her replacement and b) there isn’t a Democrat candidate in the state who is likely to win that seat running against, say, Rep. Kevin Cramer (who I’m fairly certain would run for that seat should it open).

Heitkamp said Republicans passing the law earlier this year to require a special election to fill a vacated U.S. Senate seat instead of an appointment was “silly,” but again that’s just posturing. That Heitkamp wouldn’t be able to appoint her own replacement diminishes the reward for this risk.

And if Heitkamp loses it would be a crushing blow for already thoroughly marginalized North Dakota Democrats. Heitkamp is the ace card. If she runs and loses she’s still Senator, sure, but she heads into 2018 wounded.

What decision will Heitkamp make? Who knows. I think emotionally she wants to be governor and use that position to help usher North Dakota liberals out of the political wilderness. Logically, though, she’s probably better off staying in the Senate. Because this is a tough climb. She didn’t win by a very large margin in 2012, and she was running against a pretty inept campaign from Rick Berg.

Also, keep in mind that Senator John Hoeven – who is hugely popular in North Dakota – will also be on the ballot in 2016. Hoeven has had little love for Heitkamp since that bitter 2000 campaign (especially with Heitkamp apologists claiming she would have won were it not for her breast cancer announcement during the campaign), and is sure to be interested in who succeeds Dalrymple in the governor’s seat.