I just got done writing a post about the North Dakota Senate race moving from a “toss up” between incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican challenger Kevin Cramer, and in it I pointed out that those Democrats thinking Heitkamp can repeat her miraculous 2012 upset victory in 2018 had better think again.
There are a lot of reasons for that, not the least of which is the fact that Kevin Cramer is just a better campaigner than his fellow Republican Rick Berg was in 2012, but a big one is the fight over a new Supreme Court nominee.
President Donald Trump expects to announce who he’ll be nominating this evening, but already the political pressure for Heitkamp is mounting.
Groups backing Trump’s pick are already pouring money into marketing pressuring Heitkamp to vote for confirmation:
The Judicial Crisis Network has already spent $1 million on ads touting the importance of this coming Supreme Court fight. Tonight, immediately after the nomination is announced, the group will spend another $1.4 million on ads on national cable, digital, and in four states including Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota, and West Virginia, “featuring an introductory bio spot about the nominee. The ad will run for one week, and JCN has already reserved another four weeks of air time nationally and in the four states.”
Also the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life organization, is holding a protest in front of Heitkamp’s office in Bismarck tomorrow. Their press release announcing the protest (PDF) makes an important point: “ on Election Day 2016 found that 21 percent of voters identified the Supreme Court vacancy as their most important issue. These voters overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump (57 percent to 41 percent) who promised to nominate only pro-life Supreme Court justices.”
Heitkamp’s strategy this election cycle is to convince voters that a ballot cast for her is not necessarily a ballot cast for the agenda of the national Democratic Party. “I do feel allegiance and ties to the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, Heitkamp told New York magazine in April. The magazine reports that she was “referencing the state Democratic operation — not the party of Chuck, Nancy, and other bogeymen for conservative voters.”
But the fight over a Supreme Court nominee cuts through that posturing like a hot knife through butter. Even if Heitkamp does follow through on her promise to be a conservative sort of Democrat in the Senate, there’s still the reality that she counts as a vote towards a Democratic majority in that chamber. She’s a vote towards someone like Senator Chuck Schumer being the leader of the chamber. And deciding the agenda for the chamber. An agenda that probably wouldn’t be conducive to the Trump agenda Heitkamp portrays herself as an ally of.
The more North Dakota voters get that, the worse it’s going to go for Heitkamp.