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Cramer

Senator-elect Kevin Cramer speaks at a post-election press conference on Wednesday morning in Bismarck. Cramer answered questions on a wide range of topics, saying he would be back in Washington next week to work on finalizing a farm bill among other items in his last days as North Dakota's lone congressman.

Republican Sen.-elect Kevin Cramer is in transition mode from the U.S. House to Senate after ousting Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp by 10 points in Tuesday's midterm election. 

At a press conference held Wednesday morning at North Dakota Republican headquarters in Bismarck, Cramer summarized his transition as the state's at-large representative to incoming junior senator, including carrying over his chief of staff and state director. 

He also said he and Heitkamp have not yet spoken, though he said he's been monitoring his phone.

"In all fairness, we both have had a helluva night. I'm sure at some point we'll be able to visit," said Cramer, adding he would thank Heitkamp for her service and congratulate her on her career.

Cramer also said he heard from Republican President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who both congratulated him.

He said the president spent a year persuading him to run for Senate — which Cramer initially declined — with an hourlong Oval Office visit on Jan. 2, after an initial poke in December 2016. 

"He said, 'We've come a long way since that first time, that long Oval Office visit where you said no,'" Cramer said. "He always has to remind me that I said no to him, which I have to kind of admire and appreciate because, for him, this was a big recruitment effort."

Cramer has been a staunch Trump supporter since before his election to president in 2016.

Julia Krieger, Heitkamp's campaign spokeswoman, referred the Tribune's request for comment to Heitkamp's concession statement from Tuesday night in which she reflected on her accomplishments in office and expressed hope for the future and a return to "goodness" in state and national politics.

With Republicans scooping up all statewide seats, state GOP chair Rick Berg said he's excited as the election had national and state issues at play, with a massive volunteer effort in campaigns. 

"It was encouraging to see a win, in my opinion, related to the issues," Berg said. 

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, speaking at his party's election night watch party Tuesday in Bismarck, said Cramer's win solidifies an all-Republican congressional delegation that enjoys a responsive relationship with the Trump administration.

"I think we've got an administration that understands that while we're small in population, we're a very strategic state in terms of the role that we can play," said Burgum, highlighting the state's energy and agriculture industries.

North Dakota's 2018 U.S. Senate race garnered national interest for its outcome to impact the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, which Republicans retained.

Jynette Larshus, political science coordinator at Minot State University, said Heitkamp likely lost as a result of multiple factors, including her opposition vote to now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but also deep-red state support for Trump, who Cramer has embraced. 

Mark Jendrysik, professor of political science and public administration at the University of North Dakota, said Cramer's enthusiasm for Trump was "an excellent strategy" in a state where the president remains popular. 

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"I think part of it is that Mr. Cramer made this a referendum on himself and his relationship with the president," Jendrysik said. Additionally, Heitkamp's "error" in a newspaper ad misusing names of women who experienced violence was "damaging," he said. 

Political observers have said the Cramer-Heitkamp race may go down as the most expensive race in North Dakota history, as well as the most expensive per vote. Heitkamp raised more than $27 million; Cramer raised about $5.6 million.

"We'll never see a race this expensive in North Dakota in the foreseeable future, barring someone self-financing," Jendrysik said. 

Heitkamp, a former state tax commissioner and attorney general, won her one term to the U.S. Senate in 2012 with fewer than 3,000 votes over her Republican challenger, then-Rep. Berg.

Larshus and Jendrysik said it remains to be seen what may be next for Heitkamp. The 63-year-old prominent state Democrat could be pressured to run in 2020 for governor against Burgum, Jendrysik said. 

"I think she's earned an honorable retirement," he added.

Cramer takes office Jan. 3.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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