Prognosticators See North Dakota Senate Race Trending Away From a Heitkamp Victory


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., talks to retired truck drivers about the pension crisis that threatens their livelihood Tuesday, April 3, 2018, at Marlin's restaurant in Fargo. Tu-Uyen Tran / The Forum

For what it’s worth, the folks at Roll Call see the trend in North Dakota’s hotly contested, nationally important U.S. Senate race trending away from Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

They’ve changed their rating of the race from a “toss up” to “tilts Republican.”

Here’s their justification for that change of rating:

North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp is arguably the most charismatic senator running for re-election this cycle on either side of the aisle, but she also might be the most vulnerable incumbent in the country. Her 2012 victory over Republican Rep. Rick Berg, by less than 1 percentage point, has been the Democrats’ only statewide victory in the Peace Garden State in the last eight years. And of the 29 statewide races they lost over the same time frame, the closest margin was 10 points. It looks like the state has shifted to the right since Heitkamp’s initial win. And right now, a majority of the quantitative data show that the senator is already narrowly behind in the race against three-term GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer.

You can see their entire electoral map here.

Heitkamp defenders will point that the public polling before Heitkamp’s 2012 victory showed her losing the race. They can also point out that national political forecasters like themselves also predicted that the race would go to Republican Rick Berg.

They’re not wrong about these things. But as Roll Call notes, history doesn’t always repeat itself:

We’re changing the Inside Elections rating of the race from Toss-up to Tilts Republican. Democrats will point out that a majority of the polling data in the 2012 pointed to a Berg victory and The Rothenberg Political Report rated the race as Tilts Republican before Heitkamp’s win. But that doesn’t mean history will repeat itself nor is it reason to ignore the current situation.

I’d point out that a big reason for Heitkamp’s win in 2012 was a collapse of the Berg campaign. They made a lot of big mistakes.

Also, in 2012 Heitkamp had no voting record. She hadn’t even been in public office since 2000, and when she held office it was in the executive branch of government where she didn’t have to vote on issues. Heitkamp now has nearly six years of a voting record in the Senate she has to defend, and despite her efforts to ally herself with President Trump this election year, the truth is she was a much better ally to President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority during her first years in office.

Democrats who are hoping Heitkamp can win in 2018 like she won in 2012 need to count on Congressman Kevin Cramer’s campaign imploding and voters buying into the idea that Heitkamp will be a consistent ally for Trump’s agenda despite her first-term voting record.

That’s a lot to hope for.