Yesterday we got news that West Fargo Democrat Ben Hanson, fresh off taking fourth place in a campaign for re-election to the state House last year, is launching a campaign for the U.S. House (listen to incumbent Rep. Kevin Cramer’s response to that news here).
Anyway, in the reporting on Hanson’s announcement, he makes a surprising admission. He’s saying he doesn’t plan to focus on President Donald Trump in his campaign (emphasis mine):
Hanson said he decided to enter the race because he believes Cramer is more interested in “parotting partisan talking points” than in representing North Dakota.
“I don’t see him putting an emphasis on North Dakota and North Dakota issues,” Hanson said. “I don’t see him coming back and focusing on his home state as much as he should.”
Cramer has been a staunch Trump ally, but Hanson said he would not focus on that in the campaign. “I’m not running against the president,” he said. “I’m running against Kevin Cramer.”
Those comments stand in contrast to his party’s messaging on President Trump which has been downright vitriolic (matching Trump’s own vitriol, alas), but it’s savvy politics.
After all, President Trump got nearly 63 percent of the vote in North Dakota back in November, and a July Gallup poll put the President’s approval of Trump in North Dakota at 59 percent. That was good for the second highest level of approval in the nation, second only to West Virginia.
Whatever may be going on nationally, Trump still has a lot of support in North Dakota. So much so that Democrats here feel gun shy about making him an issue.
Even Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who has already raised millions ahead of what promises to be a hotly contested re-election bid, has made the calculated decision to sit the fence on Trump. Back in March, when asked what grade she’d give the President, she said “incomplete.”
She was similarly vague again just days ago during a Bismarck event.
“Asked by an attendee what grade she would give Trump, Heitkamp said, ‘I once said ‘incomplete,’ but I would tell you today I don’t think I’d be that generous,'” the Bismarck Tribune reported.
Whatever else one can say about Senator Heitkamp, she’s a smart politician. Her kid gloves approach to Trump speaks louder than any public opinion poll about the President’s enduring popularity in our state.
If North Dakota Democrats campaign against Trump in 2018 they’ll lose. It’s really as simple as that.