I spent the weekend in Bismarck and had some time to make the rounds with Republican insiders while there. They had some interesting things to say about the question of who will run for governor in 2016.
But before we get to that, let me call your attention to left-wing columnist Lloyd Omdahl’s piece today in which he warns Heidi Heitkamp against running for governor. It’s clear that Republicans think Heitkamp may run. They’ve introduced legislation which would prevent Democrats from getting a twofer if she runs and wins (it would require that Heitkamp’s Senate vacancy be filled with a special election rather than her election), but Omdahl doesn’t think she can win.
“Now please note they are not conceding the gubernatorial election to you,” he writes referring to the Senate vacancies story. “This is just more cheese in the trap.”
Running for governor would be a big gamble for Heitkamp, and not one that national Democrats are likely to be pleased with. She barely won her Senate seat in 2012, beating Republican Rick Berg by the slimmest of slim margins, and North Dakotans haven’t voted in a Democrat as governor since the 1980’s. If she ran and lost she’d be limping wounded into her 2018 Senate re-election cycle. And even if she wins, Republicans will likely have been successful in changing the law denying her the opportunity to appoint her replacement.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Running for governor would be a big gamble for Heitkamp, and not one that national Democrats are likely to be pleased with.[/mks_pullquote]
Either way, Heitkamp would be setting up Democrats to probably lose a Senate seat.
Now it seems as though the competition Heitkamp could face in a governor run would be very stiff, which brings me back to what I heard during my trip to Bismarck.
Republicans are telling me that after months of silence, Jack Dalrymple is opening up a bit about the 2016 cycle. They tell me that Dalrymple is not dismissing a run in 2016, and the feeling is that he’s more likely than not to run for a second term (he moved up from Lt. Governor to Governor in 2010 and was elected to his own term in office in 2012).
What might dissuade Dalrymple, a Democrat source tells me, is the possibility of running against what would undoubtedly be an aggressive and very nasty campaign from Heidi Heitkamp who has a reputation as a bare-knuckled political brawler. That could be the case. If Dalrymple feels like he’s going to run against a placeholder Democrat candidate, he may be more likely to seek another term. If it’s going to be brawl, he might opt for retirement. “Not so much because he couldn’t win,” my Democrat source tells me, “but because he just might not be up for that kind of a race at this point in his career.”
A fair point.
If Dalrymple decides not to run, Republican insiders I’ve spoken to say that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is 100 percent in. Stenehjem, I’m told, will not challenge Dalrymple for the NDGOP’s nomination but will run if Dalrymple leaves a vacancy.
Which leaves the question of Lt. Governor Drew Wriglely. It’s been no secret that Wrigley has aspirations for the governor’s office, but he’s not likely to challenge Dalrymple for the nomination. He could challenge Stenehjem if Dalrymple bows out, but Wrigley has never been on a ballot as the candidate. His total electoral experience as a candidate is one campaign cycle as Dalrymple’s running mate.
Stenehjem on the other hand was first elected in 2000 with 55 percent of the vote. Since then he’s been re-elected in 2004 (75 percent of the vote), 2006 (68 percent), 2010 (74 percent), and 2014 (74 percent). Before his success on the statewide ballot, Stenehjem had served in the state House from 1976 – 1980, and the state Senate from 1980 – 2000.
(Stenehjem has one two-year term in there after the state re-arranged the cycles for some of the statewide offices.)
In other words, Stenehjem has a very long and very strong electoral track record which will no doubt hold no small amount of appeal for Republican activists when it comes to picking a nominee.
I have a great deal of admiration for Drew Wrigley, but Stenehjem’s electoral track record would be a steep mountain to climb. Of course, if Stenehjem is the candidate for governor in 2016, there would be an opening in the Attorney General’s office which would be a natural fit for someone with Wrigley’s background (he was North Dakota’s U.S. Attorney from 2001-2009 and worked as a prosecutor before that).
That the 2016 governor’s race is shaping up for Democrats as a likely race between Dalrymple and Stenehjem is probably what will keep Heitkamp in the U.S. Senate.