Information released Thursday by a political spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum indicates the Republican leader is leaning toward a reelection bid and appears interested in how he might match up against former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, should she be the Democratic candidate.
Heitkamp on Thursday said that's not even a possibility: "I'm not going to be running for governor," she told The Bismarck Tribune.
Burgum spokesman Mike Schrimpf issued “polling numbers … about potential 2020 campaigns,” one of which was Burgum vs. Heitkamp. The poll was paid for by Doug Burgum for North Dakota, his campaigning arm.
Schrimpf told the Tribune that Burgum was not announcing a reelection bid on Thursday, but he added, "I would stand by what the governor previously said about leaning in.”
Burgum has demurred on whether he will seek a second term. Heitkamp, who lost her U.S. Senate seat to then-U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer last November, said she wants to make public service contributions in other areas and "I'm just not interested in running a two-year campaign."
Schrimpf said "Heitkamp is the only Democrat with statewide name ID so it made sense to test against her." He expressed confidence Burgum is more popular among North Dakota voters than is Heitkamp.
Heitkamp questioned "the obsession that they have with me" and added, "they should worry more about doing their jobs and less about politics."
North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Rick Berg stopped short of saying the GOP considers Heitkamp to be the top potential Democratic challenger to Burgum. But he did say he thinks “there’s a huge void” when it comes to potential Democratic candidates of that caliber.
After her departure from the Senate, Heitkamp secured roles as a Visiting Fellow at Harvard and as a political commentator with CNBC. She said she recently also signed a contract with ABC, and she's serving as co-chair of Trade Works for America, a coalition advocating for Congress to pass a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.
"What I'm really uniquely focused on is long-term economic opportunities in the United States, especially focused on rural economic opportunities," she said.
Heitkamp is a former North Dakota tax commissioner and attorney general. She ran for governor in 2000 and lost to Republican John Hoeven.
Democratic-NPL Chairwoman Kylie Oversen said the party has asked Heitkamp if she is interested in running for governor, "but her answer has been pretty consistent" and the party supports her current endeavors. The party has been talking to "a lot of different people" about running, she said, but she also acknowledged that it could be "a long-shot race."
However, Oversen also questioned if Burgum might face resistance within his own party if he decides to seek another term.
"He doesn't always have a great relationship with the Republican leadership in the Legislature," she said. "That could play out, from our perspective, in an interesting way in the primary."
Schrimpf said polling indicates Burgum has broad support, and Berg said Burgum is "one of the most unique governors we've had, in his ability to see the big picture, see where he wants North Dakota to go."
“I sure hope he runs," Berg said.