As we mentioned yesterday, elected Democrats in states that Trump won in 2016 have the most to lose this midterm cycle and the U.S. Senate race in North Dakota between Republican Kevin Cramer and incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp is no exception. Trump won North Dakota by 36 (!) points over Hillary Clinton which is why, just as of yesterday, the RealClearPolitics rating for this race moved from “Toss Up” to “Lean Republican”.
Heitkamp has been playing defense on some issues, but she recently went on the attack tying Cramer to President Trump’s rhetoric on trade and how tariffs are affecting North Dakota farmers, as the Washington Examiner reports:
Republicans in North Dakota are defending Rep. Kevin Cramer on trade as the party’s Senate nominee comes under fire from Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp amid an escalating confrontation with China initiated by President Trump.
The state Republican Party on Wednesday unveiled a new digital advertisement promoting Cramer’s work on federal farm legislation and accusing Heitkamp of using North Dakota farmers to score political points on trade to save herself in the midterm elections. Heitkamp blames Cramer for Trump’s trade policies, which threaten farmers with severe hardship as Beijing retaliates for U.S. tariffs on Chinese exports by halting orders for North Dakota soybeans and other commodities.
“Heidi Heitkamp is trying to win re-election by using farmers as political props to attack President Trump and Kevin Cramer,” state GOP communications director Jake Wilkins said in a statement. “While she claims to care about agriculture, Heitkamp has made it clear she only cares about herself. Kevin Cramer has worked tirelessly to be a strong voice for the agricultural community, and he’s the right choice for North Dakota’s farmers this November.”
Heitkamp and Cramer are embroiled in a heated Senate race in a state that has become ground zero for Trump’s trade policies. North Dakota exports $2 billion annually in soybeans, mostly to China, plus hundreds of millions more in farm equipment and other commodities. The president is using steep tariffs on foreign imports to extract more favorable trading terms from China and other U.S. economic partners.
Soybeans are big business in North Dakota so it’s no wonder this has become a big campaign issue. While the state voted heavily for Trump, some farmers have voiced concern over how he is tackling trade and worried that they could be squeezed in the short term from tariffs being imposed for leverage on other countries.
According to the latest polling, Cramer seems to be starting to take a meaningful lead. As noted above, this seat was in the “Toss up” column for most of the summer but it might be trending away from Heitkamp:
We will need to wait and get some more polling to see if it correlates with the NBC News poll before declaring Cramer as the front-runner.
We talked about soybeans and farming, those are major issues. However, as with all the U.S. Senate elections this year, it has become nationalized and now Cramer and Heitkamp are trading barbs over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Heitkamp has not said where she will come down on Kavanaugh’s nomination if it comes to a floor vote, but North Dakota voters seem to have already made up their minds:
The [NBC News] poll also finds North Dakotans support the confirmation of Kavanaugh by a 60 percent to 27 percent margin. Furthermore, the survey found that at 21 percent, more people rated Kavanaugh as their top concern than any other single issue.
The poll was taken after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against Kavanaugh, but before last week’s hearing on the matter.
If Cramer continues with a lead, and North Dakota voters continue to favor Kavanaugh’s appointment, I don’t see how Heitkamp can vote against his confirmation and still hope to have a prayer on Election Day. If it looks like Kavanaugh will win without Democrats, she can cross the aisle and vote for him pretty easily since she won’t be the deciding vote. However, if a Republican peels away, meaning Heitkamp would be the deciding vote if she approved Kavanaugh, she’ll be in a tough spot with her own party.
Heitkamp and Cramer have agreed to three debates in the month of October so voters will get to hear from them both about all the important issues of the race:
Oct. 5 – Fargo, sponsored by Prairie Public Broadcasting and AARP
Oct. 18 – Bismarck, sponsored by the North Dakota Newspaper Association
Oct. 26 – Fargo, sponsored by the North Dakota Broadcasters Association.
North Dakota could end up being a pickup for Republicans this time which would squeeze Democrats in other states and make it much harder to contemplate controlling the Senate even if they pick up seats elsewhere.