Sunday, September 16, 2018

North Dakota U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

51 Days Until Election Day

North Dakota U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

North Dakota, a symbol of GOP dominance at the state government level, also has a long populist tradition which resulted in the state sending Democrats to both Houses of Congress, even as they were strongly supporting Republican Presidential nominees. This seemed to change though during the Obama years as both Dakotas sent Republicans to replace Democrats in Congress.

Currently, the sole Democrat in either state's delegation is first-term Senator Heidi Heitkamp who ran a near perfect campaign in 2012 to win a race by one percent and less than three thousand votes. Simply put, Heitkamp has been a likable and identifiable figure in her state's politics for years with an appeal that has gone beyond party. Easily elected twice as her state's Attorney General, she was nominated for Governor in 2000, but missed out on much campaigning after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She lost that race by 10 points against a very strong opponent who is now her U.S. Senate home-state colleague.

When she attempted a political comeback in 2012, many believed that North Dakota had become too red for any Democrat to have a chance, but also conceded that the red-headed politician would be very competitive. As it turned out, her GOP opponent, the state's recently elected at large Congressman did not turn out to be a strong campaigner and Heitkamp found the right pitch on the trail to portray herself as an independent voice.

Now, she is seeking reelection and faces the same challenges, this time as an incumbent, in a heightened national environment of polarization. Her relationship with Donald Trump, whom easily carried her state in 2016, has been complex. After his election, there seemed to be an effort to get her to join the Cabinet, as the token Democrat of sorts, and she went to Trump Tower and seemed interested. That move would have allowed her to immediately be replaced by a Republican in the Senate and also of course take her off the playing field for 2018. Senate Democrats seemed to plead with her to stay put and promised not to try to pressure her into toeing the party line, and she stayed where she was. Since then, Trump has alternated between praising her, and in one visit to her state, coming very close to rhetorically endorsing her for reelection, to attacking her for not voting enough for his agenda. Right now, it is clear that the White House is all in for trying to defeat her, and if polls are to be believed, she is the most vulnerable incumbent in the Senate.

With this pick-up opportunity, and perhaps a bit disappointed she was not picked for the Cabinet, Republicans looked for a strong candidate to oppose Heitkamp. Statewide elected officials turned down the race though, and the two candidates in the GOP field were seen as having various electability problems. The frontrunner was considered to be State Senator Tom Campbell. Entreaties to get Kevin Cramer, who was elected to his third term as the state's sole U.S. House member were denied, for a while at least. Cramer eventually agreed to run, with urging from the White House, and essentially cleared the field. (Thomas O'Neill, a former small town Mayor would take 12 percent in the June primary and for his part, Tom Campbell lost out on the chance to win the nomination for the House seat Cramer was leaving behind.) Sadly though, around this time, the Congressman's adult son passed away from what the family seemed to confirm were the results of alcoholism.

Cramer had not always been a political powerhouse in the state. He first unsuccessfully sought statewide office in his 20s, and while he would serve in the early 90's as the state GOP Chair, he lost two competitive Congressional elections later on in the decade. He went on to be appointed to and later elected to the state's Public Service Commission, but in some corners was considered a bit of a gadfly. In 2010, he made an unsuccessful attempt to become his party's Congressional nominee once again, but in 2012, with the seat open again, he defeated the establishment choice to take the nomination and was finally elected to Congress.

Considering the electoral victory of Donald Trump and even his Democrat opponent's efforts to portray her as a sometimes ally of his, Cramer is running as a full-on Trump supporter. This has caused the Koch Brothers, citing the issue of tariffs, which are possibly not very popular in a high farm export state like North Dakota, to say they will not spend any money on this race, on behalf of the GOP nominee. Interestingly enough though, despite Cramer's ties to the White House and the support they are giving him, even former President George W. Bush has agreed to do a fundraising event for Cramer in Texas.

The incumbent Senator has a strong grassroots organization in the state, but that might not be enough in a truly nationalized race. She is attempting to use the issue of healthcare to her advantage. Despite how unpopular Obamacare would have previously been in North Dakota, Heitkamp believes she can score points against Cramer by focusing on the issue of needing to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Since this summer, polls have shown Cramer with a very slight lead on Heitkamp. Republican operatives are said to be more bullish on this race than all other pick-up opportunities and even some seats the GOP has to defend in the Senate this cycle. This is not because Cramer is considered a great candidate or Heitkamp is a weak one. It is purely because a very red state is more likely to act like one in a high-profile race, just as a very blue state would do. Heitkamp who did vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, faces the same quandry other red state Democrats up for reelection though over the expected vote this week on Brett Kavanugh's nomination. If she supports him, she runs the risk of angering many in her party, who are going all out (frankly to pretty pathetic means) to try to stop the nomination, and if she votes against him, it will be easier to paint her as a liberal. She will probably be one of two or three Democrats to vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

Despite that though, and while this race should be considered far from over, Heitkamp has reached the point of the calendar where she has to be considered an underdog.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 
16 D (8 Safe, 3 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
  7 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 4 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
39 D (23 holdovers, 8 Safe, 3 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
49 R (42 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 4 Tossup)


At 2:19 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...



Post a Comment

<< Home