Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) has defeated Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), returning a seat in a deep red state to the GOP column and putting one of President Trump’s earliest and fiercest supporters in the Senate.
Cramer led Heitkamp 59 percent to 41 percent with 42 percent of precincts reporting. Multiple networks have called the race.
Cramer’s victory was expected — he’d led comfortably in the state’s few public polls for the last few months, as well as most private surveys. The result gives Republicans another seat in the upper chamber.
The Republican congressman spent most of his campaign bear-hugging the President (he was one of the first House members to endorse Trump), and making it clear that he’d support Trump’s agenda across the board. The President won the state by a whopping 37-point margin two years ago, so it wasn’t a bad strategy.
Heitkamp made a point to highlight Cramer’s fealty the few times Trump crossed North Dakota’s interests, especially as his trade war with China squeezed the state’s large population of soybean farmers. Many of her ads drilled Cramer for refusing to stand up to Trump on this policy.
Voters seem to still like Heitkamp — her personal favorable numbers remained in positive territory and above Cramer’s for the entirety of the campaign in nearly all public and private surveys. She’d voted more with President Trump than nearly any other Senate Democrat, and spent most of her campaign highlighting her ability to work across the aisle.
But the strongly Republican and pro-Trump state had no appetite for returning a Democrat to the Senate. And if the race wasn’t already over before the highly charged hearings to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, her decision to vote against him likely sealed her fate, even as it fueled a huge surge in donations to her campaign.
Heitkamp had sought to make hay out of Cramer’s routine off-color and inflammatory comments, from his dismissal of children in cages during Trump’s child separation crisis to his argument that even if Kavanaugh had committed sexual assault it wasn’t a big deal because it “never went anywhere.”
But that latter push blew up in her face when her campaign sent out an attack ad in local newspapers featuring survivors of sexual assault criticizing his remarks — some of whom hadn’t agreed to be a part of the ad. She was forced to apologize repeatedly for the move, and fired the staffer responsible.
Cramer also hammered her on immigration, something many red-state Republicans pushed hard in the race’s closing month, and he criticized her pro-choice views in heavily pro-life state.
Cramer had initially turned down GOP overtures to run for the Senate, and had to be cajoled by Trump into running after Republicans failed to find another serious candidate to face Heitkamp. He repeatedly said on the campaign trail that he would rather have stayed in the House. But he’ll soon move across the Capitol, and assume significantly more clout.