Kevin Cramer On Heidi Heitkamp Running In 2016: "Why Wouldn't She?"


I interviewed Rep. Kevin Cramer today while guest hosting for Mike Kapel on WDAY AM970 (sorry about the audio, I had my mice level way too hot). Among other things we chatted about 2016, and the long-rumored possibility that Senator Heidi Heitkamp might try a run at governor.

“My whole point about it is why wouldn’t she?” Cramer said. “I notice that a political scientist said that the Senator is a higher ranking position thank governor. I would say ‘oh boy’ I don’t want to take that guy’s class because it’s quite obvious that the governor is the highest position next to president of the united states. In any state that’s the number one position, and it’s the party building position.”

Cramer was referring to UND political science professor Mark Jendrysik (husband of 2014 Democrat Attorney General candidate Kiara Kraus-Parr) who was quoted in the Fargo Forum responding to some of Cramer’s prognostications.

“I don’t really believe it, to be honest with you,” he said. “Implausible would be the best word for it.”

A seat in the Senate is arguably a higher office, as suggested by Hoeven’s switch in the 2010 election, Jendrysik said.

I’m not sure Jendrysik makes a lot of sense, because Hoeven and Heitkamp aren’t in anything approaching the same political position. Hoeven was a popular governor in his third term leading a dominant state party that, at the time he moved to the Senate, held all but one of the statewide offices and long-time majorities in both houses of the legislature. Hoeven was already at the top of the ladder. His next move wasn’t about moving up so much as moving on to something different, because even in a state with no term limits and a love of both incumbents and Republicans, 12 years is a long time to be governor.

Heitkamp, on the other hand, seems to be the only Democrat in North Dakota capable of winning on the statewide ballot at this point. She’s at the top of a political party that has been thoroughly marginalized for about a generation. The governorship would be a grand prize for her for exactly the reasons Cramer suggested. She would be in an ideal spot to lead her party out of the political wilderness.

“Heidi Heitkamp, John Hoeven and I were all appointed by governors to various positions in our careers as were many of the elected leaders in this state and other states,” Cramer told me. “To me that’s really the prize. I wonder why she wouldn’t run for it and why the state party wouldn’t encourage her to run for it.”

I’m not sure what sort of “political science” Jendrysik is teaching at UND, but out here in the real world Heitkamp is a bigger asset to North Dakota Democrats as governor than Senator. Of course, the other side of that coin is national Democrats would probably much prefer she not trade in her Senate seat for a governorship which is likely what she’d be doing if she ran in 2016. Especially now that the Legislature has changed the law to prevent Heitkamp from appointing her own replacement to the Senate should she win.

But that’s assuming Heitkamp could even win a race for governor in 2016. “It’s not easy. She’s a Demcorat in a Repbulican state. But she’s an elected and well-liked Democrat in a Republican state,” Cramer said. “I think it’s unlikely that she could win a governor’s race…but she presents the best opportunity for Democrats to win the governorship.”

That’s it in a nutshell. Heitkamp is the Democrats’ best chance, but it isn’t a very good chance given the political environment in the state and particularly given who she is likely to be running against.

Here’s Cramer’s thoughts on the likelihood that Dalrymple will run again:

He has certainly not indicated to me whether he is or isn’t. I really don’t know. I do know he’s far too smart and too savy to tip his cards too early. He’s got a legislative session to finish. Perhaps a special session later in the year depending on what happens to revenue and the King vs. Burwell supreme court case. I do think the legislature needs to preserves a few days to deal with that depending on what happens. He’s too smart to become a lame duck early if he doesn’t need to. That’s wise on his part, plus I think he sincerely doesn’t know.

Also, keep in mind that if Dalrymple doesn’t run Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is in the race, and at this point he’d probably be a tougher candidate than Dalrymple given that he’s been on the statewide ballot five times since 2000 and has won with an average of nearly 70 percent of the vote each time.