With the conclusion of the North Dakota Republican Convention the race between Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., has become official.
Everyone predicts a close, tough and expensive battle between the two political heavyweights. It has already attracted national attention and will continue to do so since the outcome could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. That will be a key factor in the last two years of President Donald Trump’s term.
Cramer was an early and constant supporter of Trump during his election campaign and many expect the president to visit North Dakota to stump for Cramer. Trump has been popular in the state after carrying it in the presidential election. He remains popular in North Dakota, though his ratings have dropped.
Cramer supported the president on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the passage of the tax cut measure. Both had support in the state. Heitkamp split with Cramer and the president on both issues. Trump openly wooed Heitkamp for his tax bill during his September visit to Mandan.
So Heitkamp’s position on both issues could hurt her in November. However, there could be drawbacks to Cramer’s close ties to Trump.
The president’s attempts to fix the trade imbalance with China has resulted in a threat to impose tariffs on an additional $100 billion in Chinese goods following the announcement of $50 billion in tariffs.
Trump has said he expects China to do the right thing and accept the U.S. action. So far the Chinese give no indication of doing so.
The president’s fight with China has North Dakota’s soybean growers worried. About seven of every 10 soybean rows in North Dakota will end up bound for China, with a value of $1.5 billion annually, according to the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association. Soybeans and soy products are America's leading agricultural export, with an export value of more than $21 billion last year.
That’s not the only commodity from the state that could be hurt.
This comes on the heels of the U.S. trying to redo the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Trump has threatened to drop NAFTA if Mexico doesn’t halt the flow of immigrants to the U.S.
NAFTA has been good for North Dakota as both Canada and Mexico have been major trade partners.
It’s a long time until November and a lot can happen in the months ahead. While Cramer has tried to put some distance between himself and the president on China and NAFTA, if one or both turn out badly for the state it could hurt him.
Other North Dakota Republicans have voiced concern over Trump’s trade and farm policies, including Sen. John Hoeven. Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said during the GOP convention he thinks most North Dakotans like the status quo in trade. He noted Trump’s tough tariff talk might be a bargaining tactic, adding "But I do know there's a lot of concern."
Cramer recently criticized Heitkamp for not supporting Trump more often. He might be open for criticism for supporting the president too much.
Both candidates will have to do some tightrope walking when it comes to the president and his policies. If Trump’s trade efforts end up hurting the state it could become a key factor in the Senate race.
It’s early but the Senate contest already has become interesting.