What Can Heidi Heitkamp's Iran Vote Tell Us About Her 2016 Intentions?


North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp kicked off a waiting game yesterday when she said, in the wake of Governor Jack Dalrymple’s announced retirement, that she would announce her intentions with regard to running for that office “sooner rather than later.”

People I’ve spoken to say that’s probably September. Until then, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not Heitkamp will run. But a situation brewing in the U.S. Senate may give us an inkling.

The Senate vote on the deal is expected to take place next month (whether it will be before or after Heitkamp’s 2016 decision is anyone’s guess), and it’s a big deal as North Dakota residents can tell by watching television or listening to their radios. Our media market has been flooded with ads urging Heitkamp to oppose the deal, which is an unusual development for this sort of a situation:

If North Dakota, the country’s 48th-biggest state by population, were a city, it would sit behind Baltimore, Denver, and Philadelphia for the volume of Iran-related ads that have run this year, and ahead of New York City. More than 960 spots ran on broadcast TV in Fargo and Bismarck through Aug. 24, according to CMAG.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a bigger ad campaign aimed at a specific issue apart from an election in North Dakota,” says Representative Kevin Cramer, a Republican who lives in Bismarck and opposes the Iran deal. “To see this level of advertising is unusual, for sure, and certainly indicative of the seriousness of the issue and the importance of a single Senate vote.”

In addition to Cramer, Senator John Hoeven also opposes the deal. Heitkamp, obviously, has been mum.

No doubt her 2016 aspirations will be a factor in her ultimate decision.

In 2012 when Heitkamp was campaigning in a Senate race she ultimately won by the narrowest of margins she worked hard to distance herself from President Barack Obama and the Democrat brand generally. She branded herself an “independent,” and talked about how she’d “stand up” to President Obama, though she voted with Obama’s stated position on issues 97 percent of the time in her first year in office.

So you have to wonder if Heitkamp is going to be willing to vote with President Obama, who she has tried to keep at arm’s length, on what has become a hugely contentious and largely partisan issue and then turn around and announce her candidacy for governor of a deeply Republican state that hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor since 1988?

Of course,Heitkamp’s vote might not be¬†needed for Democrats to defeat the Iran deal resolution being pushed by Republicans. It’s not clear that the Republicans have the 60 votes necessary to move the legislation past a filibuster, let alone the 67 votes needed to overturn Obama’s promised veto. If the Democrats are sure of victory, they could cut her loose to vote in the most politically convenient way.

In related news, President Obama is also expected to give final rejection to the Keystone XL pipeline “very soon.”¬†Given that Heitkamp campaigned on supporting the pipeline, that also wouldn’t be a very convenient headline if she does announce a 2016 campaign.