After winning a narrow upset victory over Republican Rick Berg in 2012, a race she was widely seen as losing, Heitkamp gained status among Democrats as someone who had the “secret sauce” for winning in territory generally hostile to Democrats. She was an in-demand campaign surrogate traveling extensively this election cycle to stump candidates like Mark Begich in Alaska, Michelle Nunn in Georgia, and Alison Grimes in Kentucky.
Heitkamp also spent lavishly on these candidates dumping $212,500 in money from her PAC, her campaign, and her own pocketbook into their campaigns. Counting U.S. House and statewide North Dakota candidates as well, Heitkamp spent over a quarter million dollars on helping others get elected.
She didn’t do very well.
Of the 11 candidates she contributed to in competitive Senate races, 10 lost (I’m counting Begich as lost in Alaska, and Warner as won in Virginia). If we count Montana Senator John Walsh, who received $10,000 from Heitkamp’s Dakota Prairie Pac before dropping out amidst a plagiarism scandal, Heitkamp was 1-12 in competitive Senate races.
She also lost two out of three House races she was involved in (George Sinner here in ND and John Lewis in Montana lost, Colin Peterson in Minnesota won).
I think that probably de-mystified some of the mystique Heitkamp was enjoying after her 2012 victory. And some think it may inspire her to try and come back home to North Dakota in 2016.
Next cycle North Dakota’s governor seat will be up for grabs, and at least one in-the-know Democrat says that’s looking more appealing to Heitkamp than staying in the Senate.
“Considering that many of Heidi’s best friends in the Senate lost tonight don’t be surprised to start hearing even more talk about a run for Gov in 2 years,” my Democrat friend told me on condition of anonymity. “There’s been talk among those close to her over the last 6 months. She’s made it very clear to people that she does not like DC and isn’t going to be a lifer there.”
It would be a bit of a gamble for Heitkamp, and it will likely hinge on who she’d face for governor in 2016. She wouldn’t have to give up her Senate seat – her term doesn’t end until 2018 – and if she won she could appoint her own replacement. But let’s remember that in 2012 Heitkamp won her Senate seat by less than 3,000 votes facing a very weak Republican candidate in Rick Berg.
If Jack Dalrymple runs for re-election in 2016 (Republicans I’ve spoken to say he hasn’t made up his mind), I think it’s less like Heitkamp would make a run for it.
If Dalrymple doesn’t run for re-election, we’ll see a competition among Republicans to run in his place led by Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley, and that will likely be a more appealing competition for Heitkamp.
Or maybe Heitkamp just stays in the Senate, hoping a more favorable slate of races for Democrats in that cycle will make things in Washington DC a bit more tolerable for her.