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Count him in after all.

North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer announced his campaign Friday to challenge Democrat incumbent Heidi Heitkamp for her U.S. Senate seat in this year's election, reversing his decision last month to not run.

Before a packed room of Republicans, state office holders and media, Cramer said he's in while state Sen. Tom Campbell said he'll switch races from the Senate to the House.

"For me, it really came down to what we can do for North Dakota, getting that seat, but also for the country," said Cramer after his speech. 

Major legislation that has hinged on one vote is some of what's at stake with such a "razor thin" majority, Cramer said of the 51-49 Republican majority in the U.S. Senate.

"There's a lot of that that haunts me, quite honestly," he said of votes on tax reform and health care.

Support for him to reconsider his initial decision has come from "hundreds of North Dakotans," said Cramer, adding President Donald Trump has appealed to him recently, even offering to campaign.

"He literally said, 'I'll campaign more out there than you do,'" Cramer said. "Well, I hope that's not true."

Cramer and North Dakota GOP chair Kelly Armstrong both said the likely match-up between Cramer and Heitkamp will be a "key" race for 2018, with a Democratic incumbent in a deep red state.

"It's going to be a knockdown slobberknocker," Armstrong said. "This is going to be a campaign for the ages, and we're going to get it done."

In a statement, Heitkamp, D-N.D., said she is undeterred.

"I go to work every day in the U.S. Senate fighting for North Dakota and rural America — and those goals will not waver," she said. "North Dakota needs a voice in the Senate who will fight to keep our communities strong and safe, fight for working families and retirement security and fight for small businesses and farmers who keep our towns thriving.

"North Dakotans aren't interested in petty political infighting and want a U.S. Senator who works with Republicans and Democrats to find real solutions just as I have done during my time in the Senate."

Cramer said he likes Heitkamp but policies are what matter.

"What I like about her is she takes her job seriously but she doesn’t take herself too seriously, and I think that’s a great attribute for people in leadership in Washington, D.C., and it keeps her balanced," he said.

"But at the end of the day, it’s the policies that matter and the important votes that matter, and, on that front, she fails."

North Dakota Democratic-NPL chair Kylie Oversen criticized Cramer in a statement Friday.

“Cramer is the embodiment of the do-nothing Congress North Dakotans are understandably fed up with," Oversen said. "Whether it’s paying himself and his family with campaign cash or serving as a rubber stamp for the Washington, D.C., swamp leaders, Cramer has a lot of explaining to do when it comes to his lack of integrity, unsteady temperament and lengthy record of prioritizing partisan politics over meaningful solutions.”

Democratic congressional candidate Ben Hanson, who also has been critical of Cramer, said he's glad the congressman has firmly decided.

"For me, it doesn’t change too much of how I'm going to campaign," Hanson said by phone Friday night. "I’m glad he decided to finally make up his mind. I guess it’s odd that a sitting congressman had to take that long."

Also Friday, Republican Tiffany Abentroth announced her congressional campaign. In a statement, she said she wasn't surprised by Cramer's announcement.

In switching races and endorsing Cramer, Campbell said the third-term congressman and now Senate candidate is a good friend with similar values.

"I figured if he's interested in that, for the good of the party and our state, I'll run for Congress," Campbell said.

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

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Crime and Courts Reporter