2/20/18 -- With the announcement that 3-term representative Kevin Cramer will challenge Heitkamp, the competitiveness of this race just increased exponentially. Heitkamp is popular, but Cramer has won repeatedly in the same state, by increasingly large margins. Obviously Heitkamp gives Democrats the best chance they could hope for in this blood red state, but it is an open question whether that chance is good enough.
For decades, this state was as solidly Republican as the South was Democratic. But the North Dakota Republican Party was a very different kind of Republican Party from the one we're accustomed to today. Its economic policies were dictated by the Non Partisan League, a socialist group that dominated politics in the Great Plains during the first half of the 20th century. And so, North Dakota produced Republican senators such as Gerald Nye, who were generally supportive of the New Deal but were also skeptical of foreign entanglements. The state-owned grain silos and bank grew out of the actions of this Republican Party. But after the Roosevelt administration, such progressive impulses were largely confined to the Democratic Party, which began to grow in the state.
For almost two decades, these impulses were exemplified by the state's two Democratic senators: Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, and the state's congressman, Earl Pomeroy. These Democrats were old-school populists, railing against Wall Street and excessive government borrowing. A fixture in North Dakota politics since the 1960s, Dorgan decided to call it a career in 2010, while voters turned out Pomeroy after two decades in the House. Conrad likewise opted to retire in 2012, and many anticipated that the race would be a pickup for Republicans.
But Republican nominee Rick Berg underwhelmed, while the Democrats rallied around former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, who proved to be a fiery campaigner and a good fit for the state. She narrowly won, and has compiled a moderately liberal record in the Senate. In small states like North Dakota, personal interactions are often more important than overall ideology, and Heitkamp starts in as good of a position as a Democrat could reasonably hope for against State Sen. Tom Campbell.