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Cramer: Trump wants me to run for Heitkamp's Senate seat

President Donald Trump wants U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer to run for Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s seat, the North Dakota Republican said.

All that is left for Cramer to do is weigh the information he has and decide on which office he will seek, a decision he said could be announced in the coming weeks.

“I really haven’t settled in my mind or in my heart yet,” Cramer said Saturday after an address to the North Dakota Veterans of Foreign Wars in Grand Forks. “I was saying by the end of this month, maybe early April, I’d make a decision and an announcement. It could be a little sooner than that.”

Trump met privately with Cramer, the lone North Dakota delegate in the U.S. House, on Tuesday in an attempt to convince the congressman to run for the Senate this November. That would potentially pit Cramer against state Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton, for the nomination and either Heitkamp or fellow Democrat, challenger Dustin Peyer of Driscoll, N.D., during the 2018 election in November.

The midterm election would be Heitkamp’s first attempt to be re-elected to her office. She narrowly defeated Republican Rick Berg in 2012 by less than one percentage point of the vote.

A House campaign for Cramer would be his fourth run at his current seat. Ben Hanson, a Democrat from Fargo, and Minot Republican DuWayne Hendrickson have announced they would seek Cramer’s office. Cramer was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat in 2016 with 69 percent of the vote, defeating Democrat Chase Iron Eyes (23.75 percent) and Libertarian Jack Seaman (7 percent).

Campbell told the Wahpeton Daily News he would run for the House if Cramer entered the Senate race, but the Herald was unable to reach Campbell to verify that comment.

Cramer said his decision to run for either chamber would not be impacted by a bid from Campbell, or others who could announce a bid against Cramer before he declares.

The Libertarian Party did not return messages left by the Herald questioning whether the party had announced candidates for the U.S. Senate and House races.

Support from Trump

Trump’s pitch was “a step toward a ‘yes’” in decided which office to seek, Cramer said, adding he doesn’t need another poll or additional information to make a decision. The congressman who was first elected in 2012 said he still needs to sit down with his family to discuss his campaign intentions before making a final decision.

“Now it is just a matter of giving appropriate weight to everything,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t handicap (Trump’s encouragements) as strongly leaning toward (running for the Senate).”

Trump has met with Heitkamp several times since his election in November 2016 to discuss policy and presidential nominations for Cabinet positions, department heads and a Supreme Court judgeship.

In a September visit to North Dakota, Trump called Heitkamp a “good woman.”

“Sen. Heitkamp, everyone’s saying, ‘What’s she doing up here?’” Trump asked as he called Heitkamp on stage during his speech in Mandan. “But I’ll tell you what. Good woman, and I think we’ll have your support — I hope we’ll have your support. And thank you very much, senator.”

Cramer, who also attended the event with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and other North Dakota leaders, explained that Trump said such comments in hopes Heitkamp would support the president’s tax reform bill, as well as an attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, with the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Cramer said Heitkamp could have served as a decided vote to move both actions forward but instead opposed the bills.

“While (Trump) has tried to have a relationship with her, tried to reach out to her, she has responded poorly to those overtures, and you don't get to do that too many times with Donald Trump,” he said. “The practical matter is that he wants me to be a senator, and I would be better for his agenda than she has been.”

The legislation named after Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., was tabled in late September after GOP leadership in the Senate determined it would not get the support it needed to pass.

Julia Krieger, communications director for Heitkamp’s Senate campaign, noted Trump’s and Vice President Mike Pence’s support for the senator in the past, even after the Graham-Cassidy bill died without a vote. Pence expressed his approval of Heitkamp during a late October visit to North Dakota, about a month after the failed attempt to repeal Obamacare.

“The president and I enjoy a great relationship with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp,” Pence said in a speech at Minot Air Force Base. “You saw that when the president was in North Dakota with her. She’s a strong leader.”

Heitkamp refuses to be a rubber stamp for any party or the White House, Krieger added.

“Senator Heitkamp’s first priority is helping North Dakota working families and businesses do better — not advancing the political agenda of the president or party leaders — period,” Krieger said.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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