Kevin Cramer Should Agree to More Debates With Heidi Heitkamp

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) at the Uffda Day celebration in Rutland, N.D., Oct. 7, 2018. (Annie Flanagan/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)

For weeks now Democrats have been critical of Congressman Kevin Cramer for not agreeing to more debates with Senate incumbent Heidi Heitkamp.

Cramer gets a lot of credit for being one of the most accessible political leaders in North Dakota. The guy hands out his personal cell phone numbers to reporters in the state (and sometimes even lowly bloggers), and some of those reporters have spoken to me about it with a degree of amazement at their ability to text him directly for comment or to schedule interviews.

That’s not typical, and certainly it’s a contrast with Senator Heitkamp who manages access and messaging with an iron fist. There some in the media around the state, including me, that the Senator won’t talk to. In some instances, her staff won’t even talk to us.

So I understood when Cramer told me on my radio show in August, when questioned about the debate issue, that “It’s not my job to make her accessible.” He told me that the Senator is trying to “dig out from 5 1/2 years” of being inaccessible.

Cramer has made a brand for himself as a political iconoclast. I suspect it’s why he found himself so enamored with President Trump. Cramer has never liked doing things the way people expect politicians to do them. So his reticence to debates has surprised me.

There’s truth in that. Heitkamp is being self-serving in demanding a whole bunch of debates this election year. It’s the sort of thing candidates who are trailing in the polls do.

But so what?

Cramer has made a brand for himself as a political iconoclast. I suspect it’s why he found himself so enamored with President Trump. Cramer has never liked doing things the way people expect politicians to do them.

So his reticence to debates has surprised me.

I think it’s a mistake.

Debates are a lot of puffery. Grandstanding and talking points and stagecraft. Still, there is value in forcing the candidates to be in the same room to each other and engage. Every once in a while something candid will break through the facade.

Democrats are hammering Cramer on the debate question once again. An AARP debate, scheduled for last week, had to be canceled due to the Kavanaugh vote in Washington DC. The Democrats claim Cramer is “attempting to weasel his way out” of the debate.

The Bismarck Tribune reportered that the debate may not be rescheduled with the Cramer campaign citing a tight schedule.

But c’mon. If the Cramer folks felt the debate was important they could schedule it.

They may be right. Politically, these debates probably are more important for Heitkamp than they are for Cramer.

Politically, minimizing the debate opportunities is probably the right move for Cramer.

Still, we should expect more from his campaign than what’s best politically.

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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