Just 9 Percent of Heitkamp’s Itemized Individual Contributions Have Come From North Dakotans, Cramer at 45 Percent

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., left, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., share a light moment on statge during a question and answer session during the Lignite Energy Council's annual meeting at the Bismarck Event Center on Thursday, April 5. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

It’s a safe bet that North Dakota’s Senate race will be the most expensive in state history. Both candidates are expecting to spend in excess of $10 million on their campaigns, each.

Given that both Republican candidate Kevin Cramer, and Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp, are well-connected political figures and prolific fundraisers I think the money question will likely be irrelevant this election cycle. There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to campaign spending. There are only so many staffers you can hire, and given that North Dakota is a pretty small media market, advertising real estate is going to be at a premium.

Both candidates will have plenty of money to make their cases. Still, we can perhaps look to fundraising for some insight into the enthusiasm for the candidates in North Dakota.

The candidates just filed their April Quarterly reports with the FEC (Heitkamp here, Cramer here), which give us a look at how each candidate is doing both in the first quarter of 2018 and in the two-year election cycle to date (which started in January 2017). Here’s how they stack up:

Kevin Cramer: Cycle To Date Campaign Receipts $1,872,929.17

  • $822,281.51 in individual contributions
  • $47,500.00 from party committees
  • $844,175.00 in other committee contributions (political action committees, etc.)
  • $155,282.00 from other authorized campaign committees
  • Cramer ended Q1 of 2018 with $1,863,049.00 in cash on hand and no debt

Heidi Heitkamp: Cycle To Date Campaign Receipts $7,040,518.00

  • $4,444,461.00 in individual contributions
  • $1,000 from party committees
  • $2,091,610.00 in other committee contributions (political action committees, etc.)
  • $486,484.00 from other authorized campaign committees
  • Heitkamp ended Q1 of 2018 with $5,371,519.00

Clearly, through the end of March, Heitkamp has the money advantage. But Cramer just announced he was running for the Senate in the middle of February. He hadn’t been doing a lot of fundraising prior to that. The expectation is that he’ll be able to catch up with Heitkamp relatively easily, reaching the point I mentioned before where the fundraising difference really isn’t a factor.

Again, these candidates are going to saturate the market with campaign spending. Though Cramer has some risk in that if he doesn’t begin to close the gap with Heitkamp convincingly by the next disclosure report it could be taken as a lack of enthusiasm for his campaign. I don’t think that will happen, but if it does it’s bad for Cramer.

As for where the money is coming from, these candidates have both been in Congress since 2012, so they’re getting cash from the usual suspects. Industry groups. Labor unions. Things like that. Nothing too striking.

What is interesting is the geographic breakdown for the individual contributions. We can’t analyze all of those contributions. Those under $200 don’t have to be itemized by the candidates. Cramer had more than $65,000 in unitemized contributions. Heitkamp had over $733,000.

But based on what we can see, Cramer has a big advantage in getting funds from actual North Dakotans, both in terms of percentage and actual dollar amounts.

Here are the actual dollar figures:

Per the FEC, North Dakota is number six on the list of states ranked by the amount of money given to Heitkamp:

North Dakota is the top state for Cramer:

Here’s a graphical comparison of the percentage of itemized, individual contributions each candidate has received from North Dakotans cycle-to-date:

How much can we extrapolate electoral outcomes from these numbers?

It’s hard to say. You could argue that Cramer’s bigger fundraising numbers among actual North Dakotans is indicative of a larger degree of enthusiasm for his campaign. But then, in rebuttal, you could argue that it doesn’t mean anything. That hugely successful North Dakota politicians – notably Byron Dorgan, Earl Pomeroy, and Kent Conrad – spent years getting well over 90 percent of their individual campaign contributions from out of state while winning lopsided victories at the ballot box.

Of course, those gentleman were at a much different point in their careers when that was the case. They were well-established. Heitkamp is up for re-election to the Senate for the first time ever.

Perhaps the most important take-away from all of this is that Cramer needs to put up convincing fundraising numbers by the time the next fundraising deadline comes around. His big gap with Heitkamp is explainable this time given how late he announced his campaign. He won’t have that excuse next time.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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