Cramer Passes on North Dakota Senate Run

Trump encouraged him to challenge Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, GOP rep said

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., has decided not to run for Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 11: 14 a.m. | GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer said Thursday he does not plan to run for Senate in North Dakota and instead will run for re-election to the House. He had faced pressure from President Donald Trump to challenge Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Cramer told WZFG-AM’s “Scott Hennen Show” in North Dakota that passing on a Senate run was the best decision for his family.

“We decided that the best thing for our family, for me, and I think, frankly for North Dakota, is for me to seek re-election to the House of Representatives,” Cramer said. As the at-large member, Cramer represents the entire state in the House.

“And while it’s still a robust campaign, there’s still lots of work to do, it’s far less intense than flying around the country for the next few months, every weekend going to Chicago, New York, cities far away to raise adequate funds to run,” Cramer said. 

Watch: Cold Weather Doesn’t Bother Heitkamp

The announcement comes after Cramer met with President Donald Trump about the race. Cramer said that Trump encouraged him to run and that he was leaning toward running. A weekend of discussions and prayer with his family while weighing various factors resulted in his decision not to run, Cramer said.

His decision leaves the GOP field to state Sen. Tom Campbell, who is also independently wealthy. Campbell is a co-founder of Campbell Farms and chairman of Choice Financial Banks Holding Company. He said he supports Trump’s agenda.

“With today’s announcement, now is the time for North Dakota conservatives to focus squarely on defeating Senator Heitkamp this November, and I am committed to doing exactly that,” Campbell said in a statement. “I look forward to providing Kevin with a conservative partner in the Senate after I defeat Senator Heitkamp.”

Heitkamp is one of five Senate Democrats up for re-election in states Trump won by double digits in 2016. Trump carried the Sioux State by 36 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the North Dakota race a Toss-up

One GOP consultant who has worked in North Dakota said Cramer’s announcement could make the race more difficult for Republicans.

“I think it makes the race much more challenging,” the consultant said. “Obviously Kevin was a top-tier candidate and could have given Heidi a real run for her money in fundraising and name I.D. and all that. So I think Campbell’s going to have an uphill climb.”

The consultant noted that Campbell’s main challenge will be fundraising. He has shown a willingness to donate to his own campaign. According to the latest Federal Election Commission documents from the end of September, Campbell had already loaned his campaign $425,000. He had $171,000 in cash on hand, though his latest fundraising numbers have not yet been released.

Heitkamp’s latest numbers have also not been released, but at the end of September she had nearly $3.8 million in the bank, and had raised more than $4.4. million.

“North Dakotans want a U.S. senator who works with Republicans and Democrats to find real solutions just as I try to do,” Heitkamp said in a statement following Cramer’s announcement. “It’s a true honor to serve our state and I hope to continue to serve because we still have work to do.”

Despite Cramer and two other potential woman candidates passing on the race, one GOP strategist with knowledge of the North Dakota race argued that Heitkamp was still vulnerable. The strategist pointed to the state’s GOP leaning and Trump’s popularity there.

“It doesn’t change the fact that Heidi represents a state Trump won by 36 points and she has failed to support his agenda,” the strategist said.

Heitkamp opposed the GOP plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and overhaul the tax system. She was one of three Democrats to break with her party and support Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Correction, Jan. 11, 2018, 2:30 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of “The Scott Hennen Show.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.