Democrats have a problem with their Senators wanting to run for Governor in 2016 ahead of what looks to be a very ugly cycle for them in 2018.
Senators Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), and Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) have all been rumored to be desirous of serving as the chief executive of their respective states. Here in North Dakota the rumors were so strong that the Legislature changed the law so that the state’s vacant Senate seat would be filled by a special election instead of an executive appointment, thus preventing Heitkamp from appointing her own successor on the unlikely chance that she’d win.
But nationally Democrats have lowered the boom on these Senators with gubernatorial aspirations. “The 2018 Senate landscape is absolutely terrible for Democrats, and they need every break they can possibly manage to either hold the Senate (if they manage to retake it in 2016) or keep their minority large enough to fight another day in 2020 and 2022 (if they don’t win the majority in 2016),” reports the Washington Post.
Because of that, Democrats have successfully pressured Manchin and McCaskill into staying in the Senate. But Heitkamp, who I’m sure is currently the target of that pressure, hasn’t yet caved:
Democrats have already done well to keep Manchin and McCaskill in the Senate. Keeping Heitkamp too would be a remarkable feat that would — theoretically — preserve the party’s opportunities in 2018. It’s worth noting, however, that even if all three of those incumbents run and win — far from a sure thing — Democrats will still have to defend seats in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia. Republicans have virtually no vulnerability outside of Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada.
My guess is that Heitkamp is going to stay in the Senate, and here’s why:
First, national Democrats really, really need her in the Senate and North Dakota Democrats are really, really dependent on their national party for support. The Dems just don’t have a very good fundraising network in North Dakota. In order to keep their state party operation running (it dwarfs the NDGOP in terms of staff) they need national money, and the portal for that money is Heitkamp. If she turns her on national Democrats she could leave her state party wounded.
Second, Heitkamp would pretty much be handing her Senate seat to the Republicans. With the aforementioned change in law, Heitkamp would not be able to appoint her own replacement should she win (more on that in a moment). That means that she wouldn’t be able to elevate a North Dakota Democrat to that seat to give them a two-year advantage over whoever Republicans run. It seems doubtful that any Democrat other than Heitkamp could hold that seat even with a two-year head start. Without it Democrats are going to end up running a placeholder candidate against one of the many experienced and recognizable Republican candidates from statewide office.
Third, Heitkamp probably can’t win the governor’s race anyway. Republicans are now acknowledging privately that the candidate is going to be Jack Dalrymple, and Democrat insiders acknowledge that Heitkamp isn’t going to run against Dalrymple despite her long-standing desire to be governor. Heitkamp would retain her seat as Senator if she runs in loses in 2016, but she’d be heading into the 2018 cycle as a wounded duck.
And you can bet that Republicans, both in North Dakota and nationally, have their eyes on Heitkamp’s seat in 2018 given that she won it by less than 1 percent of the vote in 2012.