At Risk of Losing Re-Election, Senator Heidi Heitkamp Avoids Criticizing President Trump


North Dakota Democrats, judging from their social media messaging (both official and unofficial), are not ambiguous when it comes to their feelings about President Donald Trump.

But when Senator Heidi Heitkamp, the only Democrat to win an election on North Dakota’s statewide ballot since 2008, was asked by the Grand Forks Herald to grade Trump she demurred.

If anything, she was downright complimentary:

Pressed to give Donald Trump a letter grade to rate his first 100 days, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., told the Herald editorial board on Friday morning that she’d give him an “I”—”Incomplete.”

“It’s too early to judge. I don’t like that,” Heitkamp said of grading the president’s performance. “It’s not something you can really judge at this point.”

Heitkamp’s remarks come in the midst of a fledgling presidency that has seen judicial setbacks on two proposed foreign travel bans and is mired in a health care debate, but has successfully begun rolling back numerous Washington regulations. Heitkamp voted last month to repeal an Obama-era regulation aimed at coal runoff pollution, arguing that the bill was a poor fit for North Dakota’s geography.

“I think (Trump) has a lot of energy. I think that’s a fair way to say it. He’s a little like me. He’s not a linear thinker,” Heitkamp said. “The one thing I do believe is that he’s myopically focused on helping working men and women in this country, and bringing back economic opportunities to people who get up every morning and go to work and don’t necessarily put on a suit and tie.”

This is a tough balancing act for Heitkamp. On one hand, if she moves as far left as her state and national parties, she doesn’t have a chance of getting re-elected in 2018. On the other hand, she’s likely to need every vote she can get from the Democratic base too, which she might not get if she’s seen as too friendly with Trump.

Will she run in 2018? The Herald asked that as well. “I haven’t locked down what my plans are,” Heitkamp said. “There’s always considerations that go into this decision, and mostly it’s personal. If I started out being afraid to take risk and chance politically, I wouldn’t be sitting at this table here.”

For what it’s worth Heitkamp’s most likely opponent, Congressman Kevin Cramer, said essentially the same thing recently.

“I’ve not ruled it out, but I will be honest I’m not thinking about it either,” he told Politico (paywall).

UPDATE: Archie Ingersoll has a more in depth report of Heitkamp’s comments, including her suggesting that re-election would be harder had Hillary Clinton been president:

“I think that it would be harder if Hillary Clinton had won because then everything she did people would say it’s your fault,” Heitkamp said. “It means that I don’t have to spend time defending somebody else’s agenda. I can talk about what I want to get done.”

She’s probably right.