MINOT, N.D. - With roughly three weeks to go until Election Day, North Dakota's two Senate candidates find themselves in very different situations.
"We're fighting a complacency issue right now," Congressman Kevin Cramer said during a recent segment on my radio show, expressing concern that too many political observers have declared his campaign victorious before the votes are even tallied.
He's got a point. Even Democrats have acknowledged Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is trailing in the polls, but a lot can happen in three weeks, especially if Republicans take their collective foot off the gas pedal.
I'm not sure Heitkamp can win this Senate race at this point, but Cramer could certainly lose it. Which seems to be something the candidate herself is rooting for. "In an interview on Wednesday, Heitkamp acknowledged she's facing an uphill battle but hinted she believes Cramer could still self-immolate," Politico reported this week.
It's never good when a candidate is down to hoping their opponent bails them out.
Heitkamp, meanwhile, is tasked with trying to pull another rabbit out of her hat. The candidate and her surrogates are spending a lot of time talking about that eked out 2012 victory, and supposing lightning could strike twice.
The talking points seem pro forma. Like professional political people going through the motions in a lost cause.
What's far more convincing is some of the excuse-making for Heitkamp which is going on already.
This talking point concerns the federal courts refusing to block enforcement of North Dakota's voter ID laws in the upcoming election.
First, the 8th Circuit overturned a lower court stay of part of the law requiring identification used for voting have a physical, residential address on them. Then the Supreme Court declined to overturn the 8th Circuit.
"Supreme Court Makes It Harder for Tribal North Dakotans to Vote," screamed a headline from Mother Jones.
That argument has been widespread from left-of-center commentators and media organizations this week, all of whom are suggesting (as Heitkamp herself has in the past) the state's voter ID law was crafted to specifically suppress Native American votes.
This is ludicrous. Why even bother with things like legislative districts if we aren't going to verify a given voter is qualified to vote where they're voting?
This isn't about voter suppression. This is about narrative.
Heitkamp seems poised to lose, and it's easier to blame something like voter ID than her voting record. Or the Democratic Party's abandonment of rural America. Or the mistrust Heitkamp has created for herself among Native American voters.
Or the fact that candidate Heitkamp, whose stock in trade is supposed to be her authenticity, has come off this election cycle as someone as genuine as a $3 bill.
If Heitkamp loses, expect our friends on the left to blame just about everything except for North Dakotans rejecting the left-wing policies and politics Heitkamp has come to represent.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort and listen on WDAY AM 970.