Hey Byron Dorgan, if You Have to Tell Us Heidi Heitkamp Isn’t in Trouble Then She’s in Trouble


Over the weekend former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan wrote an angry letter to the Grand Forks Herald disputing that paper’s statement in an editorial that current Senator Heidi Heitkamp may be in some political hot water heading into 2018.

The Herald’s editorial position isn’t at all a stretch. Heitkamp barely won election to her current and first term in the Senate back in 2012, and since then North Dakota trended even further toward Republicans. We know that in 2018 Democrats are facing a tough Senate election map nationally, and here in North Dakota Heitkamp will face a stiff challenge from Republicans.

Probably from popular Congressman Kevin Cramer.

While Heitkamp isn’t someone who should ever be dismissed – we learned in 2012 that she is a tenacious and skilled campaigner – there is no question that she’s on thin ice. Which is probably why, unlike so many other Democrats both here in North Dakota and nationally, Heitkamp has mostly been playing nice with Trump.

Heck, the door is even still open for Heitkamp to serve in Trump’s administration, though the Senator threw some cold water on the idea back before the holidays.

Still, Dorgan would have us believe that Heitkamp’s re-election is all but assured. “She is going to be elected to another term in the Senate in 2018 by North Dakota voters,” he writes. “They know she is a strong, confident voice for our state with an independent spirit that North Dakotans admire.”

Bold words, I think, especially coming from someone who barely lived in North Dakota at all during the end of his tenure in the Senate. You’ll note that at the bottom of Dorgan’s letter on the Herald website his address is listed as Washington.

There is no question Dorgan had a lot of political success in North Dakota, but I’m not sure how much stock to put into the comments of someone who a) last campaigned in our state a dozen years ago and b) is lecturing us from Washington D.C.

Besides, if Democrats have to go around telling people that Senator Heitkamp isn’t in trouble heading into the 2018 election cycle, then she’s probably in trouble. Incumbents on the path to an easy re-election don’t have to remind people of that fact.

All the more reason not to take Dorgan seriously is his insistence that both he and former Senator Kent Conrad would have won re-election had they chosen to run again in the 2010 and 2012 cycles:

Last but not least, the editorial points out that North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad and I both left the Senate rather than run for re-election, implying we would have lost had we run again. The Herald knows better than that. I had served 40 years in elective office, and Conrad had served 32 years in elective office. Our decision to leave office after a combined seven decades were logical choices each of us made.

I think each of us would have been successful if we had chosen to run for re-election. Trying to use our retirements to build a bogus case that Heitkamp will be defeated is absurd!

This is historical revisionism.

In 2010, when Dorgan chose not to run, his fellow Democrat Earl Pomeroy got creamed in the House Race by Republican Rick Berg. Pomeroy, too, had a long and success political resume in our state. He, along with Dorgan and Conrad, was a part of the erstwhile “Team North Dakota.” If Pomeroy couldn’t hold off Berg in 2010, I find it hard to believe that Dorgan could have held off a challenge from the far more well known John Hoeven who, at the time, was one of the most popular governors in the nation.

As for Conrad, who knows. Heitkamp held his seat for Democrats, but she also didn’t have to campaign with his Countrywide Mortgage baggage.

Dorgan disputes it, but I think both he and Conrad saw the writing on the wall. They chose to exit voluntarily rather than being pushed out of office by voters.