From defending a peeping Tom as "a very good man" to saying that all chain-link fences are created equal, whether they are holding children like caged dogs or simply enclosing a playground, it's been a rough past few weeks for Kevin Cramer.
North Dakota's lone U.S. House representative, who is running to unseat Democrat Heidi Heitkamp from the U.S. Senate, has always been known as a guy unafraid to say whatever offensive thing is on his mind because that's who he is and, frankly, it's rarely mattered. If Cramer didn't have a Republican-appointed political job, he was never in danger of losing an election. Whatever popped into his brain came out his mouth, unfiltered.
Things change, though, when you're running for one of 100 U.S. Senate jobs, with the Republican majority only at 51-49 and the country as polarized as it is under President Donald Trump. People tend to notice what you say and wonder why you say it. Sometimes — and Cramer really hates this — national news outlets like CNN pick up your controversial statements and report on them.
So when you say North Dakota GOP-endorsed secretary of state candidate Will Gardner, caught a dozen years ago very deliberately peeping into the dorm windows of college girls, is "a very good man" who just maybe should've stayed in the race instead of dropping out because you think he still would have won, people take note.
When you defend putting children as young as 3 into cages after they've purposely been separated from their parents by the U.S. government because "chain-link fences are around playgrounds all over America, all over North Dakota," it tends to make headlines.
When you pick a fight with the president's legislative affairs director, suggest Trump gives Heitkamp preferential treatment "because she's a, you know, a female," insult the Koch Bros.-fueled Americans For Prosperity because the conservative advocacy group gave money to Heitkamp and generally whine that the president isn't giving you enough love — as Cramer has done just in the past month — the political world is going to pay attention.
His has not exactly been an inspiring campaign thus far.
That's why the Trump rally scheduled for Scheels Arena in Fargo on Wednesday, June 27, carries some weight for Cramer. Yes, he is still the favorite to beat Heitkamp in November. Yes, a recent poll commissioned by a North Dakota television group showed him leading by 4 points statewide and by massive margins in the western part of the state. Yes, a Heitkamp victory would be the biggest electoral shocker nationally.
But in deeply conservative North Dakota, the fact that Heitkamp is hanging around is a story in itself. She is personally popular, liked by voters in both parties and has cast herself as a moderating voice in a crazy political atmosphere.
The poll said Cramer leads Heitkamp 48-44. It is the slimmest margin of any statewide race polled and Cramer is still short of the critical 50-percent mark. Republican Kelly Armstrong leads Democrat Mac Schneider in the U.S. House race 46-35, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem leads his opponent 64-27 and Al Jaeger, the incumbent secretary of state candidate tossed aside by Republicans in favor of the window peeper, leads Democrat Josh Boschee 51-39 despite Jaeger running as an independent.
The numbers are good for Cramer, but not great.
So Trump will fly into our town and do what he's done for other Republican candidates he favors — get a packed arena ginned up over immigration, tax cuts, immigration, jobs, immigration, the fake news media, immigration, oil and immigration. He will tell the crowd and North Dakotans watching on TV the only way to ensure his success as president is to send another Republican like Cramer to the U.S. Senate. The idea is to have the president's charisma among GOPers rub off on Cramer.
The most interesting question, really, is how hard Trump will criticize Heitkamp, if at all. He seems to genuinely like her personally and isn't virulently opposed to her politically. The harshest the president has been with Heitkamp came in a recent tweet, after weeks of Cramer whining over Trump's good relationship with her, that said she "will always vote no when we need her."
The circus is coming to town, but it's about more than fun. Trump's purpose is to help Cramer, who needs a jolt. And the president's visit comes at an opportune time for the Republican considering how many, um, interesting things Cramer has said in the past several weeks.