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PORT: Some good news and bad news for the NDGOP heading into 2018

columnist Rob Port

MINOT, N.D. — I have some good news and bad news for North Dakota Republicans who are

anxious to maintain and expand their grip on elected office.

First, the bad news.

Tom Campbell, a state Senator from Grafton, has not inspired a lot of confidence since noisily

announcing a challenge to U.S. Senate incumbent Heidi Heitkamp with not one but two

campaign ads.

Already. In August of 2017. Sigh.

Not only are NDGOP party officials still working on recruiting other candidates, but Campbell's

entrance into the race prompted respected political prognosticators to move their forecast for

the race toward a more likely win for Democrats.

Larry Sabato's Center for Politics at the University of Virginia moved North Dakota's Senate

race from a "toss up" to "leans Democratic." Noting that Heitkamp now has an opponent in

Campbell, they say "Heitkamp deserves the benefit of the doubt."

The Cook Political Report, meanwhile, also has the race leaning toward a Heitkamp victory now

that Campbell is in the race. "Now that Heitkamp has a credible opponent, the contest is in the

Lean Democrat column," they write.

It's early. A lot can happen between now and election day 2018, but these are not exactly

resounding endorsements for Campbell's ability to unseat the incumbent.

Republicans are right to keep looking for stronger candidates.

The good news for Republicans is that Heitkamp's recipe for success is fomenting division in

her own party. So much so that her success probably can't be replicated by any other

Democratic candidate who might put themselves on the ballot in 2018.

While the rest of her party, both nationally and locally, has spent years lurching to the extreme

left, Heitkamp has managed to make herself be perceived as a moderate. During the 2012

election, Heitkamp campaigned so far to the right that then-NDGOP Chairman Gary Emineth

jokingly offered her a party membership.

More recently Heitkamp has been one of the most consistent Democratic votes for President

Donald Trump's policy agenda and appointments, and at one point even flirted with joining his

cabinet.

While that's good electoral politics for Heitkamp, it's created faction in her party.

Heitkamp was heckled at a Democratic party event earlier this year by proponents of single-

payer health care.

Heitkamp was criticized by a faction of the North Dakota delegation to Democratic party's 2016

national convention for supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders (she ultimately didn't cast

her superdelegate vote).

Heitkamp has a primary challenger from the left named Dustin Peyer who is promising to hold

the incumbent "accountable" for her pro-Trump votes.

The Senator is in a good position to win re-election heading into 2018, but given the state of her

party it will likely be the only Democratic victory on the statewide ballot.

Assuming Heitkamp wins, that is. Which she may not, Campbell's limp noodle candidacy

notwithstanding.

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