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Cramer says Trump-headlined fundraiser will 'fire up' donors as Senate campaign enters final two months

President Donald Trump raises a fist to Rep. Kevin Cramer and his wife, Kris, at the close of his speech during a campaign stop at Delta Hotels by Marriott of Fargo on Friday, Sept. 7. 2018. David Samson / Forum News Service1 / 2
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop for U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Kevin Cramer in Fargo on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. David Samson / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO — Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer said President Donald Trump's fundraising speech on Friday, Sept. 7, in Fargo will "fire up" donors supporting his Senate campaign as his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp enters its final two months.

Trump gave a half-hour speech to a crowded hotel ballroom at Delta Hotels by Marriott, where he touted his administration's policies, such as tax cuts and deregulation, while boasting about an economy that's on a "rocket ship." He also teased former President Barack Obama, who entered the campaign trail Friday by arguing Trump is "capitalizing on resentments" during a speech at the University of Illinois.

Trump said he "fell asleep" during Obama's speech.

"Isn't this much more exciting than listening to President Obama?" the former celebrity businessman said.

Trump took a few jabs at Heitkamp, warning she would vote with Democratic leaders while Cramer will vote with him "on making America great again." The president said Cramer is a "big fan" of his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and would support his judicial picks — Heitkamp has not said how she'll vote on Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Trump said "Heidi's vote would have been great" on undoing the Affordable Care Act, "but she voted against it."

But Trump also cited regulatory relief for community banks, an apparent reference to a bill Heitkamp co-sponsored. The president thanked her during a bill-signing ceremony in May.

Trump bragged that he "immediately approved" the Dakota Access oil pipeline, a project that prompted months of massive protests over its crossing near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. He later repurposed his campaign pitch to black voters for North Dakota’s Native American population: “What the hell do you have to lose” by voting for Cramer?

"You put Kevin Cramer into that position, and you're going to see things happen that you'll never see with Heidi," Trump said.

Heitkamp campaign spokeswoman Julia Krieger said Cramer will be a "rubber stamp" for the administration.

"Heidi will work with anyone to get results for North Dakota — that's why the president highlighted their work on a path forward for coal, and to roll back burdens on community banks," she said in a written statement.

Air Force One landed in Fargo at about 11:30 a.m. After greeting Gov. Doug Burgum, Sen. John Hoeven and House candidate Kelly Armstrong, who are all Republicans, Trump shook hands with the crowd gathered at the Air National Guard Base. More than 400 people registered for the fundraiser by the time Trump landed, Cramer's campaign manager Pat Finken said.

Michelle DePalma, a Trump supporter who lives in Phoenix but flew from Boston to attend the Fargo fundraiser, said "we need better people in Washington."

"Kevin can't do it on his own," she said. "(The president) wants good people to help him."

Heitkamp has easily outpaced Cramer's fundraising. She raised almost $11.3 million this election cycle and had $5.2 million on hand at the end of June, according to federal campaign finance records, while Cramer raised almost $3.3 million and had $2.4 million on hand.

Cramer announced Thursday that the Fargo event raised more than $1 million, although it wasn't clear how much went directly to his campaign versus national and state Republican groups.

"This was a big jolt for me, a big shot in the arm financially to help close that gap," Cramer said, noting that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., plans to fundraise for him later this month.

Contribution levels for Friday's event ranged from $1,000 per couple to $50,000, according to an invite the Heitkamp campaign shared with a reporter. Cramer's campaign didn't dispute those figures.

The Cramer campaign used the event to highlight the differing geography of the campaigns' fundraising. Heitkamp has received a higher dollar share of her $200-plus individual contributions from outside North Dakota — 92.5 percent compared to Cramer's 63.1 percent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finances.

Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher for the Center, said small red states like North Dakota "don't have enough Democratic major donors to fund a modern Senate race."

Friday marked Trump's second visit to Fargo during the campaign and his third trip to North Dakota as president. He held a raucous rally in a packed Scheels Arena in late June, where he lambasted Heitkamp for her votes on tax cuts, health care, immigration and abortion.

Heitkamp, for her part, boasted in an earlier ad that she has voted with Trump "over half the time." But she has also portrayed herself as an independent, saying in a recent interview the president is "not always right" and highlighting trade policies that have caused some uncertainty in farm country.

Before his speech, news broke that Trump threatened another round of tariffs on $267 billion of Chinese goods.

"Nothing is more emblematic of what's at stake in this race than the president escalating the trade war en route to a million-dollar, closed-door fundraiser for Kevin Cramer," Krieger said in a statement.

Cramer has expressed some distaste for tariffs but warned against "undermining" the president's trade moves. He was an early supporter of Trump, recently saying the president is "with the people of North Dakota a lot more than Heidi Heitkamp is."

Trump carried North Dakota with 63 percent of the vote in 2016. Heitkamp is one of 10 Democratic senators running for re-election in states that Trump won. The race could determine which party controls the Senate, where Republicans currently hold a slim majority.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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