Too much confidence in Heitkamp is an opportunity for Republicans

U.S. Sen, Heidi Heitkamp rode to victory in North Dakota — albeit a narrow one — in 2012 in part by cashing in on Republican overconfidence.

Nobody really thought Rick Berg, fresh off a freshman stint in the U.S. House, could lose that election. And then he did, in a stunner, and Heitkamp has been our senator for the last five years.

Here at the dawn of the 2018 election cycle, with Heitkamp already campaigning, Republicans should be gladdened by signs of overconfidence from the left.

To be sure, Democrats do have reason for confidence.

Despite feigning indecision about a re-election campaign publicly, Heitkamp has already raised a mountain of cash for a 2018 race and quietly made sure the media reported on it.

She’s also been running a subtle campaign of small things, making herself omnipresent in state headlines mostly talking about pleasing but non-controversial issues.

Heitkamp is behaving exactly like the smart, savvy politician we all know her to be.

She has also seen her approval rating in the Morning Consult poll increase from 50 percent in April of 2016 to 60 percent this month. That’s good for making her the 11th most popular member of the Senate.

Republican Sen. John Hoeven’s approval in that same poll has fallen 8 points in the same time window, though he’s still the 4th most popular Senator.

The NDGOP, meanwhile, have a number of potential challengers for Heitkamp, but it’s clear there will have to be a competitive (and perhaps ugly) process before they settle on one.

That gives Heitkamp a lot of time to campaign in a vacuum before she has to get serious about taking on a challenger.

This has led some on the left to think she’s got in the bag.

Case in point: my colleague Mike Jacobs, who accused me of hyperbole in a recent column because I suggested the 2018 Senate race might be “one for the ages.”

“With a strong incumbent Democrat and weak Republican challengers, however, the Senate race isn’t likely to be ‘one for the ages’ — unless (to repeat) someone decides to invest big money in an effort to buy the seat,” he wrote.

The larger point here is that Jacobs seems to think that Heitkamp has it in the bag. That the race won’t be competitive.

He’s already written off the Republican field of candidates as “weak.”

But it’s July of 2017.

There is plenty of time for Republicans to find their candidate.

Remember that in 2012, the year Heitkamp upset Republicans, she didn’t launch her campaign until November of 2011.

Republicans should hope that Jacobs’ attitude permeates Democratic ranks. That sense of overconfidence will be something they can exploit.

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