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Commentary: Cramer campaign is under fire on all fronts

ND Rep. Kevin Cramer speaks at the North Dakota GOP Convention at Scheels Arena in Fargo on Sunday, April 3, 2016. Rick Abbott / The Forum 1 / 2
Columnist Rob Port2 / 2

MINOT, N.D.—I loved from the outset the dynamics of a Cramer vs. Heitkamp Senate race.

Rep. Kevin Cramer is the happy warrior. He engages with feisty town hall attendees, and subjects himself to zingers from callers during his weekly talk radio segments on shows around the state. It contrasts well with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp who has a tendency to be thin skinned and studiously avoids engaging directly with the public or her critics.

Lately, though, it's Cramer who has seemed thin skinned.

A feud has erupted between Cramer and the White House.

Specifically with Marc Short, President Donald Trump's liaison with Congress.

Short has it out for Cramer, and vice versa. The congressman took a shot at Short's job performance on my radio show recently, blaming him for the failure of repealing Obamacare.

Reliable sources tell me that Short and his office are the source of most of the rumors you're reading about in the national media painting Cramer as a whiner throwing tantrums over Trump's too-friendly relationship with Heitkamp.

Inside baseball, perhaps, but what voters see is Trump snubbing Cramer and his high-profile Senate race during a swing through the Midwest.

Trump will be holding a rally in Duluth later this month, but not in North Dakota.

The Cramer campaign tells me it's not a snub. That their schedule didn't work for the president to come to North Dakota because it's a busy week in the House.

It's not a very convincing rebuttal what with Heitkamp and her media allies working overtime to paint the incumbent (cynically and hypocritically) as a better ally for Trump than Cramer is.

Meanwhile, Cramer has problems in his base.

Jared Hendrix, a long time operative in North Dakota politics who is a member of Cramer's campaign staff, has been dabbling in local Republican politics.

His boss is suffering the blowback.

Hendrix is supposed to be helping Cramer win the Senate race, but he apparently has time to meddle in legislative primaries in Bismarck, Williston and Minot.

I make no judgment on Hendrix's machinations, but Cramer can hardly afford to have a member of his campaign staff making enemies in his own party with Heitkamp on his right flank trying to peel off Republican voters.

Republican circles are also buzzing about Hendrix having knowledge of disgraced Secretary of State candidate Will Gardner's peeping tom case prior to Gardner winning the NDGOP's endorsement in Grand Forks back in April.

"I did not know any of the details of the case," Hendrix told me saying the "lesson learned for me is to do a lot more due diligence on the people I support."

Many Republicans blame Hendrix, an early organizer for Gardner's campaign, for covering the 2006 incident up. You readers can decide if that blame is warranted, but that it's hurting Cramer is indisputable.

And then there was Cramer's first television ad which had the candidate himself saying, at one point, "we all like Heidi."

Republicans hate that line. They remember when another Republican candidate, Rick Berg in 2012, tried the same tactic against Heitkamp.

It didn't work then. It's not likely to work in 2018.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort

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