Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp announced Wednesday she is running for re-election in 2018, a decision she says was cemented the night before while attending a dinner with President Donald Trump.
“I really felt last night that there’s an opportunity to do some good bipartisan work,” Heitkamp said in an interview with The Bismarck Tribune. “If I didn’t think I was getting things done, I don’t know that I’d want to stay here.”
Many Republicans, including opponent state Sen. Tom Campbell, said her announcement was not surprising, citing the $3 million she’s raised in campaign funds. Heitkamp said she made her announcement Wednesday to answer the questions she’s been getting about her plans.
“A lot of people speculated, ‘She’s already made up her mind.’ That's not true,” Heitkamp said. “I don’t think preparation is equal to decision.”
Heitkamp, North Dakota’s only Democrat to hold statewide elected office, has held the Senate seat since 2013 after narrowly defeating Republican Rick Berg.
Heitkamp has been in the national spotlight recently, last week flying on Air Force One with Trump to Mandan, where the president brought her on stage during his speech and called her a “good woman.”
She was one of three Democrats invited to the White House on Tuesday night to discuss tax reform.
“I’d love to see a broad, bi-partisan tax reduction bill that really provides benefits to the middle class,” Heitkamp said.
She cited her efforts to support lifting the oil export ban, responding to concerns about the opioid crisis and fighting to improve lives for Native American children as some of her accomplishments.
“We have a pretty good record and I’d like to continue that work because there’s so much more to do,” Heitkamp said.
Kelly Armstrong, chairman of the state Republican Party, said he thinks Heitkamp is going to have a tough time explaining some of her votes to North Dakotans. Specifically, he mentioned Heitkamp’s vote against repealing methane emissions, which many criticized as a vote against the energy industry.
Heitkamp said, at the time, her vote was influenced by the position of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, which would have been most affected by the rule.
Campbell, of Grafton, is the only Republican who has announced he’s running, but several are rumored to be considering the race.
Armstrong said state Sen. Rick Becker, of Bismarck, is considering a run and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., is still determining what his course of action will be.
“What Kevin decides to do will drive, I think, a lot of other things,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said he hopes Republicans have five or six people seeking the seat to energize voters.
“Energy drives turnout, and if we turn out Republican voters in North Dakota, we should be able to beat Sen. Heitkamp,” he said.
Barbara Headrick, a political science professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, said it will be interesting to see if the national Republican party tries to push for a particular candidate because it is a targeted seat.
“Given that North Dakota is a Republican state, I expect it will be close, but Heitkamp has the advantages that come with incumbency and an overall good reputation in the state,” she said.
Headrick added that she doesn’t think Heitkamp’s willingness to work with Trump on tax reform will hurt her with Democrats.
“You may hear a few grumble, but who else do they have that can win this seat?” Headrick said.
North Dakota’s Democratic-NPL Party is thrilled that Heitkamp is running for re-election, said chairwoman Kylie Oversen, calling her a “consensus builder” who fights for what’s right regardless of party affiliation.
“In the U.S. Senate, Heitkamp has been a staunch advocate for North Dakota, a powerful voice for our families and a tireless fighter for rural America,” Oversen said in a statement.
Dustin Peyer, a wildlands firefighter and Driscoll resident, also has announced he’s running as a Democrat for the Senate seat.
Peyer said Wednesday he’s glad Heitkamp stepped into the race. But he was critical of the out-of-state campaign funds that Heitkamp and other members of North Dakota’s Congressional delegation receive.
“I believe it’s time we have more candidates who are people-funded and people oriented,” Peyer said.
Campbell, who said he spent 100 hours campaigning around the state last week, said he’ll support Trump’s agenda 100 percent of the time.
“I feel she’s sided with her liberal Chuck Schumer Democratic Party so often,” Campbell said. “I just feel that when you get somebody conservative like me you’ll know where I’m always standing.”
Heitkamp declined to comment about Campbell, saying she’s focused on what she’s done for the people of North Dakota and what she intends to do if re-elected. Heitkamp, a former North Dakota attorney general and tax commissioner, lost a race for governor in 2000 against Republican John Hoeven, who now serves in the Senate.
After making her announcement, Heitkamp said her primary job is serving in the Senate.
“This isn’t ‘OK, now I go home and campaign,’” she said. “I still have a job to do and we aren’t going to let up at all.”