Heitkamp Ranked as the Most Vulnerable Incumbent Senator

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. (Photo courtesy of Heitkamp's office)

“Democrats continue to dominate the latest list of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents two months out from Election Day, with North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp moving into the top spot,” Roll Call reports today.

That’s a whole lot of bad news for North Dakota Democrats, and not just because Heitkamp’s odds of re-election seem to be getting dimmer. Nine out of the ten endangered Senate incumbents on this list are Democrats. Which means that if Heitkamp hopes to get more help from national Democrats, and the national liberal donor base, she’s going to have a lot of competition for it.

One thing going for her is that North Dakota’s media market is small, and relatively cheap by national standards, meaning Democrats could get more bang for their buck defending Heitkamp’s Senate seat than they could in, say, Florida.

Still, it’s not clear what more money in this race would accomplish. With early voting starting later this month, could either Heitkamp or her opponent Congressman Kevin Cramer possibly be running more ads?

Maybe, but I’m not so sure the market isn’t saturated at this point. Right now North Dakotans can’t watch anything from broadcast television to streaming content on services like YouTube or Hulu without being bombarded by Senate race messaging.

Anyway, here’s Roll Call’s reasoning for putting Heitkamp at the top of their list:

Heitkamp moves to the top spot due to a combination of polling, a tough challenger and her state’s partisan shift. She still might be able to bring together a coalition of voters to prevail, but North Dakota has shifted further right since she won a first Senate term by less than 1 point in 2012. While she has her own brand in the state, so does her opponent, GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, who represents the entire state as its at-large House member. Cramer lags behind Heitkamp in fundraising, but the dynamics are still tough for North Dakota’s last remaining statewide Democrat. Race Rating: Tilts Republican

It’s interesting that they mention polling. There hasn’t been any recent polling released in this race. At least not recently. What public polling we do have has consistently shown Cramer with a lead (just one, conducted by an obscure polling firm back in February, showed Heitkamp leading), but the last polling was completed in early July:

Has Roll Call seen something we haven’t?

Cramer has alluded in media interviews to his internal polling numbers improving – in fact, he said on my radio show last week that his polling had improved despite a barrage of Democratic attack ads – but his campaign hasn’t shared anything specific publicly. And certainly not with me privately.

Not that the polling is going to impact the behavior of the candidates at all. If they’re smart, both will campaign like they’re losing until election day. But it seems clear to this observer that it’s probably Cramer’s race to lose at this point.

Even Heitkamp seems to be acknowledging that. “I’m worried about getting reelected,” she told Politico earlier this week when asked about whether she’d vote to make Senator Chuck Schumer majority leader in the Senate if re-elected.

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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