A Consequential Day in North Dakota Politics

June 27th was a consequential day when it comes to North Dakota politics and the U.S. Senate race in particular. Farm rallies, Supreme Court retirements, and ultimately a Presidential campaign speech. Will it be a date people point back to and say it was a turning point in the midterm election or just another day in politics? Let’s take a closer look at each and try to make sense of it all.

2018 Rally for Agriculture

Various associations rallied farmers, ranchers, and people fighting hunger to raise awareness for ongoing concerns with trade, ethanol production, nutrition programs, and the farm bill. The rally was scheduled to coincide when media would be focusing on North Dakota due to the President’s visit. The message was simple, they wanted to find ways to work together with elected leaders to find ways to minimize negative impacts of on-going policy negotiations. It wasn’t a “protest” as some right-wing media desperately tried to mislead their followers into believing. Had farmers wanted to stage a “protest” they could have plugged traffic with combines and tractors. No, this was an informational session hosted on a flatbed trailer.

Mark Watne, NDFU President, speaks during the 2018 Rally for Agriculture

The farm economy will likely play a large role in the midterm election in North Dakota. Commodity prices have been low for the past few years. The Farm Bill has unfortunately become a partisan fight because House Republicans injected ideological positions into their version. Their rigid stance led to the bill’s defeat weeks ago. Ultimately, they reconsidered and passed it by two votes. Many people look to the bipartisan work of the Senate and its farm bill for hope something reasonable can get done. Now, international markets for agricultural products are threatened by administrative tariffs amid an accelerating trade war.

Still, it is tough to tell exactly how farmers will land when it comes to taking matters into their own hand at the ballot. I’ve heard a lot from farmers over the past few weeks. Some remain optimistic things will simply work out, that these tariffs are part of a long-term return. That is not guaranteed. Then, there are those who are concerned with what they are seeing. The latter wants people in and out of agriculture to know their worries are legitimate and that they’re willing to work toward pragmatic solutions with whoever is in office.

Supreme Court Retirement

The unexpected moment from June 27th was the announcement from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy that he was retiring from the Court. The announcement sent shock waves throughout the political landscape for a few reasons. President Trump will get to select his second Justice in his first term. But also, the proximity of this announcement to the midterm election.

Justice Antony Kennedy with incoming Justice Neil Gorsuch. Photo taken in 2017

How does this announcement play into the U.S. Senate race? It gives conservatives another campaign rallying point and may be a motivating factor for some of them to show up and vote in the midterm that otherwise may have sat it out. I focus on the conservative side of the political aisle because polling in previous elections shows they place these appointments higher on their list of reasons to vote than do progressives.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proven to be one of the biggest hypocrites in recent political history by demanding the Senate approve Trump’s appointee this fall, four months before the election. Do not forget he held President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, from even having a hearing because he wanted the people to have a say in the upcoming 2016 election. Garland’s nomination lasted 237 days from when he was nominated to when the 2016 election was held. That was then.

Where does this leave Heitkamp in her bid for reelection? She has already voted FOR Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s earlier nominee for the Supreme Court. Does that negate this political issue for her? The argument that she won’t vote for Trump’s nominee and thus voters need Kevin Cramer is awash. Cramer’s campaign knows that so they’re already trying to spin that she’ll be forced to vote for the nominee for electoral reasons. Where it could get interesting is if the nominee is qualified and approved by Heitkamp whether or not that turns off far-left voters. Will enough moderate and right-leaning voters stay with her to make up any loss of liberal votes? Will the liberal base care much about this pick since they haven’t in previous elections?

Trump Rally

The day closed with President Trump delivering his greatest hits to a packed Scheels Arena. The event, billed as a campaign event for Kevin Cramer, saw and heard very little about Kevin Cramer. No doubt the photo on stage and one or two sound bites will be used throughout the remainder of the campaign. Was it enough? Is the Cramer campaign satisfied following weeks of whining to the White House about Trump getting more active?

Kevin Cramer joins President Trump on stage in Fargo

The other question, are the ardent supporters of Cramer’s campaign content with Trump’s approach to Heitkamp? Right-wing media tried getting their audience in a frenzy to come up with a nickname Trump could use for her. That failed. Instead of the direct insults he’s been known to unleash at these rallies, Trump isolated a handful of votes they feel resonates with the base. Heitkamp will have the opportunity to explain those votes throughout the campaign. Will her campaign undertake that approach? Beyond that, it was the same strategy used every year to tie Democratic candidates to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. That hasn’t worked on Heitkamp in the past.

Yet, others try to claim this rally ruined Heitkamp’s strategy of pointing to times that she has voted with Trump or against her party. That strategy appears to be one of displaying independence and not about voting for or against Trump. It is a clear contrast from Cramer who, in his own words last night, said he’d vote for Trump 100% of the time. Of course, Trump omitted those Heitkamp votes he’s liked during his political speech including the bank bill she co-sponsored and he held a ceremony to sign. Those are facts. They are provable. No amount of spin or omission can change that.

One thing was obvious, the crowd was energized and ecstatic for Donald Trump. Nobody could pull in a crowd like he did yesterday. It is unclear how many of those in attendance were from North Dakota, and thus eligible to vote for Cramer, as people piled in from all over the region. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of bump it gives Cramer in this tight Senate race. Expect Trump to return to North Dakota closer to the election.

Summary

We likely won’t know exactly how consequential June 27th was until after the election. Granted, a lot can happen between now and November. Some events might even leave this date looking less significant. One thing is for certain, they added complexity and intrigue to one of the most watched races in the nation.

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