Heidi Heitkamp won’t be running for governor in 2020. The former U.S. senator confirmed it during an interview last week with the Bismarck Tribune, likely ending speculation that she’ll join the race and go up against incumbent Doug Burgum.
Here’s the background: Burgum, the first-term Republican, is leaning toward a re-election bid. As part of the process, he hired a polling firm to see how he would fare in a theoretical matchup with Heitkamp.
Heitkamp would have been a formidable opponent and probably would be the best bet for Democrats in a race against Burgum. She was state tax commissioner from 1986 to 1992 and state attorney general from 1992 to 2000. She then ran for governor – losing to current U.S. Sen. John Hoeven – before gaining a seat in the Senate in 2012. She lost in a re-election bid to Kevin Cramer in 2018.
Her future in politics has been the focus of widespread speculation. And even as she declared her lack of interest in the position – she previously told the press she had no plans to run for governor – people generally didn’t listen.
When Burgum sent out polling numbers, pitting himself against Heitkamp in a mythical matchup, it got tongues wagging. That is, until Heitkamp told the Tribune it’s not even a possibility.
“I’m not going to be running for governor,” she said, jabbing Republicans at the same time by questioning “the obsession that they have with me. … They should worry more about doing their jobs and less about politics.”
Now that sounds like a politician.
The obsession isn’t necessarily with Heitkamp but with trying to figure what the Democrats will throw at Burgum in 2020. North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Rick Berg told Forum Communications Co. blogger Rob Port that there is a “huge void” for top-caliber Democrats.
He’s right, and that’s unfortunate for North Dakota.
Let’s be clear: Our point isn’t that the state needs a Democratic governor. Nor is our point that someone needs to beat Burgum.
What the state needs, however, is a more balanced system so voters can have more choices and so issues are more thoroughly vetted.
Judging by recent elections, Republicans outnumber Democrats in North Dakota. President Donald Trump got 63 percent of North Dakota’s vote in 2016; Cramer beat Heitkamp by 11 percent in 2018.
Often, it’s much more lopsided. Burgum got 76 percent of the vote in 2016. Hoeven won his last election with 79 percent of the vote. The GOP holds huge majorities in the Legislature and the state hasn’t had a Democratic governor since 1992.
All three members of the congressional delegation are Republicans.
So as the state spent time wondering if Heitkamp had designs on the governor’s mansion, we don’t believe it’s necessarily an obsession with the former senator. Instead, it’s likely just an interest in seeing what the Democrats could come up with to make an interesting race in 2020.
Without Heitkamp and with no Democrats publicly lining up, the party’s outlook for high office remains bleak.
And one-party dominance – no matter which party that is – just doesn’t make for good politics.