Senator Heidi Heitkamp: “I Think I’m Done With Electoral Politics”


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who is running for re-election, talks to voters at AFL-CIO House of Labor in Bismarck, N.D., Nov. 5, 2018. Rep. Kevin Cramer, who latched onto Donald Trump even before he was president and never let go, ousted Heitkamp on Tuesday, flipping a key seat that was vital to Republican efforts to hold the Senate. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times)

After losing big on election day to Republican Kevin Cramer, many wondered what the future might hold for outgoing Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

North Dakota Democrats have struggled mightily to recruit candidates for some time now. In fact, the only Democrat to win in the statewide ballot in North Dakota since 2008 is Heitkamp, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012. It seems likely that Heitkamp will come under immense pressure in future election cycles to run for another statewide office.

Maybe for governor in 2020, challenging incumbent Republican Doug Burgum?

Heitkamp herself was asked whether or not she’d run again during an interview with NPR. Her answer, for what it’s worth, is that she’s done being a candidate (full audio below):

KELLY: And you, are you done with politics?

HEITKAMP: You know, I think I’m done with electoral politics (laughter). I’ve been at this a long time. This was my seventh statewide race.

KELLY: Is it the campaign part of the process…

HEITKAMP: I’ve never liked – I mean…

KELLY: …You don’t want to go through again?

HEITKAMP: I like the getting out and visiting and meeting people. And if you could just wipe out all of the day-to-day back-and-forth that makes people weary and disrespectful and distrustful of politicians, that’s got to end. And so you know, I started out this business at the age of 28. I got into a Ford Fiesta, and I went to every little coffee shop all across North Dakota. If you could run a campaign like that and win, I’m all in. But it has gotten ugly and mean and unproductive. And you see it in how the American public responds to politicians. And so the sooner we can get back to respecting each other so the public can respect us, the quicker we’re going to see a turnaround in how the public perceives their elected officials.

That pablum Heitkamp mouths about civility and respect is rich given the way she, and her talk radio host brother Joel Heitkamp, have run her campaigns.

But Heitkamp’s comments about not running for office again? I think they’re genuine. Had the margin of Cramer’s victory been narrower I think the door could be open for Heitkamp running for governor in 2020. It’s an office she’s long esteemed. She ran for it and lost in 2000, and many thought she’d run for it again after the man who beat her, John Hoeven, moved on to the U.S. Senate.

She opted to run for the Senate herself instead, but the consensus in political circles is that Heitkamp would have preferred to be governor.

Last month, though, she was defeated by 11 percentage points. That’s tough to come back from.

Heitkamp will still be involved in state politics for some time to come. She ended the 2018 election cycle with nearly $7 million in campaign cash still on hand, according to the FEC. She can transfer that cash to other political parties/candidates in coming election cycles. Expect her to use that money to boost Democrats in North Dakota in coming years.

But Heitkamp herself as a candidate? I think that’s over.