Despite a favorable map, Republican prospects for growing their Senate majority have appeared murky, given the party’s struggles to land top-tier recruits to take on Democratic incumbents in several states where Donald Trump won in 2016.
One of those states was North Dakota.
That is changing with the expected announcement Friday by Rep. Kevin Cramer that he will seek to challenge Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in the Peace Garden State this fall.
Cramer’s entrance into the race comes a month after he ruled out a bid despite encouragement from President Trump and top Republicans.
While Democrats will point to past concerns by Republicans about Cramer’s penchant for controversial remarks, the move does give the party a candidate with a higher profile statewide than current contender Tom Campbell, who serves in the state senate.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Heitkamp told CNN’s Manu Raju on Thursday. “This was always going to be a tough race.”
“It definitely adds higher name ID, and he’s obviously been successful in the past. That advances it,” she added. “But he’s also lost several times too.”
Heitkamp won her 2012 race by a single point – fewer than 3,000 votes – significantly outperforming Barack Obama, who lost the state to Mitt Romney by 19 points. Donald Trump carried North Dakota by 36 points in 2016.
She begins 2018 in a strong financial position with nearly $4.5 million in the bank. Cramer should be able to compete in that area, with the full backing of the party establishment, in what now becomes one of the top Republican pick-up opportunities.
The new competition for Heitkamp should give Republicans a boost as they aim to keep control of the Senate and serves as another reminder of the Democrats’ tough map.
For that, North Dakota moves from Lean Democratic to Toss-Up in our updated Senate race ratings.