Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerRepublicans prepare to punt on next COVID-19 relief bill GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police Trump tweets spark fresh headache for Republicans MORE (R-N.D.) announced on Thursday that he won’t run against Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (D-N.D.) in 2018, dealing a blow to GOP hopes to take the seat.
Cramer told the North Dakota radio program “What’s On Your Mind?” in an interview Thursday morning that he won’t mount a bid, opting instead to run for reelection to his at-large House seat. The North Dakota Republican had previously met with President Trump, who was urging him to run.
North Dakota is considered a key GOP target in 2018, after Trump won the state by nearly 40 percentage points in 2016.
“The people’s house is so special. I don’t think until you really get here and you see how different the two chambers are in terms of the relationship with people, even for an at-large congressman,” Cramer said Thursday.
“The intimacy we have with our constituents is clearly not the same as what senators have and that was part of my consideration as well.”
Trump had publicly urged Cramer to jump into the Senate race. The two met in early January where Cramer said the president made a “persuasive case” to him. Cramer flew on Air Force One with Trump and the congressman was seen as a strong proponent of Trump’s agenda.
Cramer boasts a prominent name in North Dakota politics. As the only member of the state’s congressional delegation since 2013, he enjoys statewide name recognition, which would be a big asset running in a Senate race.
But Cramer’s past controversial remarks could have hampered a potential Senate bid.
He faced backlash last year when he said that there’s some “validity” to former White House press secretary Sean SpicerSean Michael SpicerFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump’s power under Insurrection Act OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White MORE’s comments that Adolf Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons. Cramer also took heat when he said that the Democratic female lawmakers wearing white to Trump’s address early last year were “poorly dressed.”
And a recent report from Politico about Cramer paying his family members from his campaign account could have also been a hurdle in a Senate campaign.
With Cramer sitting out the Senate race, state Sen. Tom Campbell (R) has the GOP field to himself. The primary is on June 12.
Asked if Campbell could win, Cramer was confident that Campbell could mount a competitive campaign against Heitkamp.
“Oh he can, there’s no question in my mind that Tom can,” Cramer said. “I’ve done enough poling and I’ve seen other polling to know.”
“Sen. Heitkamp, not surprisingly, is well-liked, she really is. … People like her, but it doesn’t translate to reelection. It’s kind of a phenomenal thing,” he continued. “Tom has positioned himself very well for whatever race he ended up in.”
Heitkamp, who’s running for a second term, will have a tough time running in a state that Trump handily carried. But Heitkamp is also a known quantity in the state, working as the state’s attorney general and tax commissioner before taking the Senate seat.
“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,” Heitkamp said in a statement following Cramer’s announcement. “North Dakotans want a U.S. senator who works with Republicans and Democrats to find real solutions just as I try to do.”
Despite Trump’s efforts to get Cramer to run, the president has had a surprisingly warm relationship with Heitkamp.
Heitkamp was in the running last year to be in Trump’s Cabinet, though she ultimately wasn’t offered a job in the administration
She also flew on Air Force One with Trump and Cramer and the president touted her on stage during his speech in Bismarck last September.
“Sen. Heitkamp. Everyone’s saying, ‘What’s she doing up here?’ But I’ll tell you what — good woman, and I think we’ll have your support, I hope we’ll have your support. Thank you very much, senator,” Trump said during his September speech.
In some GOP circles, there has been increasing frustration over Trump’s courtship of Heitkamp.
“I would characterize it as Trump mishandling recruitment efforts by always having her over,” one GOP source familiar with Senate recruitment said. “Remember, it goes all the way back to the time he tried to get her on his Cabinet, so the love affair started a long time ago.”
Scott Wong contributed.
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