Top North Dakota Republican Passes On Senate Run, Boosting Heitkamp & Dems

UNITED STATES - October 7: Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, October 7, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
January 11, 2018 10:41 a.m.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) has decided to pass on a Senate bid and will run for reelection, leaving Republicans without a top-tier challenger to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and boosting her chances in the heavily Republican state.

Cramer, a close ally of President Trump’s who was in the running for a cabinet nomination last year, is the latest North Dakota Republican to take a pass on challenging the popular Heitkamp in a state Trump won by a lopsided 63 percent to 27 percent in 2016. His office confirmed to TPM local reports that he’d passed on a Senate bid and will run for reelection.

He’d initially been Senate Republicans’ favored candidate before a series of gaffes early last year. After other potential candidates passed, he once again became their top choice. In recent weeks, both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had personally lobbied Cramer to run.

His decision greatly increases the chances that Heitkamp won’t face a top-tier opponent in this election — and boosts Democrats’ hopes of making gains in the Senate in the 2018 reelections, and potentially winning back control of the upper chamber.

It’s also the latest recruiting failure for Republicans, who didn’t get their top choices in races in Montana and Michigan. They recently lost their front-runner to face Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), though Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) has now declared a Senate bid as a result. Republicans are still waiting on Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to decide if he’ll run for Senate, and the party has seen a raft of House retirements in recent days. Those, along with recent polling and fundraising figures, are the latest signs of a building Democratic wave for 2018.

North Dakota State Sen. Tom Campbell (R) is the only declared candidate against Heitkamp at this point, and he’s so far proven to be a weak fundraiser, leaving Republicans casting around for another option.

They still have a bit of time — the primary isn’t until June, and the filing deadline isn’t until April.

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