National Democrats Say North Dakota’s Senate Race Is Trending Away From Them

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., met with farmers and farm leaders at the NDSU Carrington Extension Research Center Friday to talk about the Senate version of the farm bill and concerns with loss of foreign markets due to tariffs. Keith Norman / Forum News Service

Interesting article from the Washington Post today profiling two Democratic Senate incumbents running for re-election in states President Trump won by wide margins in 2016, each candidate with a starkly different outlook on how things are going.

In West Virginia, Senator Joe Manchin seems to be doing well. Political prognosticators see that race trending in his direction. In North Dakota, however, even Democratic sources say they see the race slipping away from Senator Heidi Heitkamp:

Some Democrats privately acknowledged that North Dakota and West Virginia have been trending in different directions. But they said they believe West Virginia has moved further in their favor than North Dakota has faded from their grasp.

Nathan Gonzales, a nonpartisan political analyst for Inside Elections, moved both races out of the “toss-up” category last month. North Dakota headed to “Tilts Republican.” West Virginia went to “Tilts Democratic.”

It’s worth noting that last week, as the political action committee tasked with supporting Democratic incumbents laid out its media strategy for the coming weeks, we learned that they are prioritizing other races above North Dakota’s despite the clear jeopardy Heitkamp is in.

Republicans, meanwhile, say they’ve seen internal polling which shows Cramer winning. “Several GOP strategists said they have reviewed recent private polling showing Cramer leading Heitkamp,” the article states.

For what it’s worth, the scant public polling we’ve gotten is showing Cramer with a consistent but relatively small lead over the course of months:

Republicans are saying North Dakota is their best shot at picking up a seat:

With fewer than 100 days to the midterm elections, top Republicans have concluded that North Dakota represents their best chance to flip a seat from blue to red, with Rep. Kevin Cramer, R, looking to unseat first-term Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. A win in North Dakota would be a major step toward the GOP majority protecting its slim advantage in the Senate.

At the same time, Republicans have grown more pessimistic about West Virginia, where Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a former governor, is trying to fend off state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

This is all good news for Cramer. There seems to be a consensus among Democrats and Republicans alike that the race is moving in his direction.

That doesn’t mean the race is won. Far from it.

Heitkamp has an enormous amount of money in her campaign coffers. While her campaign’s messaging this election cycle has been surprisingly maladroit – their petulant, crassly partisan reaction to Cramer getting appointed to negotiate the final version of the farm bill is a prime example – her 2012 operation had a very strong get-out-the-vote machine. We also haven’t seen even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how vicious Heitkamp can get when she feels a race is slipping away from her.

Again, during the 2012 campaign, the public polling showed her losing in the final months of the race. Her campaign reacted by launching a campaign of character assassination against then-opponent Rick Berg, led in no small part by the Senator’s talk radio host brother, and it worked. Heitkamp eked out a win by a margin of less than 1 percent of the vote.

Right now, in this moment in time, I believe Heitkamp is losing this race. I think she’s probably been losing it for a few months now. But nobody standing between Senator Heitkamp and power should ever turn their back on her.

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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