The speculation has been laid to rest. Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer made it official, he is not challenging Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Instead, he’ll seek reelection to the House. Months if not longer of the “will he, won’t he” are now over. We are left with this question; what changed?
Heitkamp was listed as one of the most vulnerable Democratic seats even before Donald Trump became President. Once Trump won ND in a landslide, it was all but certain the NDGOP would have a strong contender for the U.S. Senate. Cramer was the obvious choice. Cramer is out. What changed?
Earlier in 2017, Cramer was prone to “cringe-worthy” moments. Defending anything President Trump said while other Republicans pushed back with decency left Republican Senate leadership questioning if Cramer was really their best option. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (NRSC) looked at other contenders in the state. They’ve been stuck with State Senator Tom Campbell whom I’ve been told the NRSC isn’t crazy about.
Fast forward to December. The rushed tax reform passage lent itself to partisan posturing for the 2018 election. North Dakota’s two Republican federal members voted “Yea”, Heitkamp voted “No.” This was the moment Republicans were waiting for. Letters to the editor were placed locally condemning Heitkamp and praising the others. Steve Scheels even got in the mix with a devoid of fact letter that left many scratching their heads. This week, the NDGOP began buying ads against Heitkamp for the vote.
Around the same time President Trump signed the tax bill, Cramer publicly bragged about his internal polling. He claimed he was up on Heitkamp in a head-to-head and that Trump’s popularity had grown in ND since the election. Things appears to be lining up for a Cramer Senate run. This momentum was propelled by a White House visit. The President was going to back Cramer. Right-wing media pounced claiming their sources say Cramer is in. He is out. What changed?
On Monday, I published an article about questionable behavior on behalf of the Congressman. Specifically, how Cramer has paid himself and his family approximately $350,000 from political donations. It caused a conversation. The Congressman took to conservative media in an attempt to discredit myself or my body of work. What I wrote was accurate and judging by the response, struck a nerve.
On Tuesday, Heitkamp was invited to the White House. President Trump wanted her input on immigration reform. The invite undercut the attempt to label her as a partisan left-wing coastal elite that’s too partisan to work with the administration that some try to desperately to stick her with.
Those are two reasons listeners of my show, “Afternoons Live” provided when I asked “what changed” during yesterday’s show. They suggested the public pressure mounted quickly. I’m not there. I think this decision was made long ago.
What changed? Did anything change? If you read ND xPlains regularly or listen to my show on KFGO, you know I was one of the few who predicted Congressman Cramer would not challenge Heitkamp. I said this early in the year and the signs kept popping up. He wasn’t actively raising the money needed for the race. In early December, I was the only one to report he created a joint fundraising agreement with Congressional Republicans. Why do that if you’re mounting a Senate run? The Senate would have been too risky. Why jump into a race that would likely be 50/50 when you can stay in a race that will likely start closer to 60/40 or higher? The signs were there.
The decision has been made public. Now the question on many Republican minds is, why did he take so long?