MINOT, N.D. — In 2018, during one of the most high-profile U.S. Senate campaigns in the nation, soybeans, unexpectedly, took center stage.
Kevin Cramer, then a congressman, was challenging incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. The Donald Trump presidency, specifically its trade policies with China, was casting a shadow over the race, which is where the soybeans came in.
As part of the Chinese regime’s tit-for-tat with the Trump administration, orders stopped coming in for soybeans. China, historically, buys a lot of soybeans, and North Dakota grows a lot of soybeans.
Heitkamp, tasked with getting re-elected in a pro-Trump state as a member of an anti-Trump political party, saw the pain of soybean growers as an opportunity . A wedge issue she could use to convince a very Trumpy electorate to vote for a Democrat.
It didn’t work so well — Heitkamp would go on to lose by 11 percentage points — but while the soybeans issue wasn’t enough to save the incumbent in that race, it was, and is, a very real problem the roots of which have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and fraying geopolitical relationships.