Commentary: Trump has greatly helped the Senate career of Sen. Heitkamp
North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer's decision not to run for the U.S. Senate was a wise one.
He wasn't going to defeat incumbent North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Heitkamp has raised lots of money, and has effectively positioned herself as a popular moderate in conservative North Dakota. She has bucked her party on issues such as guns and energy, much to the chagrin of her liberal supporters, but much to the delight of most North Dakotans.
Now Cramer can run and win his safe House seat, rather than have to look for a job in the private sector. Cramer had to reject President Trump's arm twisting to run for the Senate, but Trump had nothing to lose. If Cramer ran and lost to Heitkamp, another Republican would have come along to replace him. In fact, that's how Cramer ended up in the House to begin with. In 2012, North Dakota Republican Rep. Rick Berg ran against Heitkamp for the Senate and lost, opening the door for Cramer to win the House seat. I suspect Cramer learned from Berg's defeat that running against Heitkamp was a trap.
My guess is Cramer really wants to be a senator. Every member of the House wants to be in the Senate, and every senator wants to be president. North Dakota has a long history of representatives becoming senators. In recent history, Democrats Quentin Burdick and Byron Dorgan moved from the House to the Senate as did Republican Mark Andrews. Berg had good reason to think he could make the jump too before Heitkamp's surprising victory.
Some say Cramer would have won because of President Trump's popularity in North Dakota, with Cramer being one of his most loyal and devoted supporters. After all, Trump won the state in 2016 by 36 points over Hillary Clinton. Don't be fooled by that. Much of Trump's big win in North Dakota is because he's a Republican and Clinton was a flawed and disliked candidate. Remember, North Dakota hasn't voted in favor of a Democratic Presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but in those 52 years it has elected Democratic Senators Burdick, Kent Conrad, Dorgan and Heitkamp.
In 2016, Trump's coattails were a major factor in the re-election of Republican senators in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. However, that was then and this is now. With his crude and unfit performance as president, Trump has turned from an asset to a liability. The recent elections in New Jersey, Virginia, Alabama and Wisconsin were a direct rebuke of Trump. The reality is if Hillary Clinton was elected president, Heitkamp would have no chance to be re-elected, as she would have been linked to Clinton. Trump might be a disaster for the country, but he's greatly helped the Senate career of Heitkamp.