Some good news and bad news for the NDGOP heading into 2018

I have some good news and bad news for North Dakota Republicans who are anxious to maintain and expand their grip on elected office.

First, the bad news.

Tom Campbell, a state Senator from Grafton, has not inspired a lot of confidence since noisily announcing a challenge to U.S. Senate incumbent Heidi Heitkamp with not one but two campaign ads.

Already. In August of 2017. Sigh.

Not only are NDGOP party officials still working on recruiting other candidates, but Campbell’s entrance into the race prompted respected political prognosticators to move their forecast for the race toward a more likely win for Democrats.

Larry Sabato’s Center for Politics at the University of Virginia moved North Dakota’s Senate race from a “toss up” to “leans Democratic.” Noting that Heitkamp now has an opponent in Campbell, they say “Heitkamp deserves the benefit of the doubt.”

The Cook Political Report, meanwhile, also has the race leaning toward a Heitkamp victory now that Campbell is in the race. “Now that Heitkamp has a credible opponent, the contest is in the Lean Democrat column,” they write.

It’s early. A lot can happen between now and election day 2018, but these are not exactly resounding endorsements for Campbell’s ability to unseat the incumbent.

Republicans are right to keep looking for stronger candidates.

The good news for Republicans is that Heitkamp’s recipe for success is fomenting division in her own party. So much so that her success probably can’t be replicated by any other Democratic candidate who might put themselves on the ballot in 2018.

While the rest of her party, both nationally and locally, has spent years lurching to the extreme left, Heitkamp has managed to make herself be perceived as a moderate. During the 2012 election, Heitkamp campaigned so far to the right that then-NDGOP Chairman Gary Emineth jokingly offered her a party membership.

More recently Heitkamp has been one of the most consistent Democratic votes for President Donald Trump’s policy agenda and appointments, and at one point even flirted with joining his cabinet.

While that’s good electoral politics for Heitkamp, it’s created faction in her party.

Heitkamp was heckled at a Democratic party event earlier this year by proponents of single- payer health care.

Heitkamp was criticized by a faction of the North Dakota delegation to Democratic party’s 2016 national convention for supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders (she ultimately didn’t cast her superdelegate vote).

Heitkamp has a primary challenger from the left named Dustin Peyer who is promising to hold the incumbent “accountable” for her pro-Trump votes.

The Senator is in a good position to win re-election heading into 2018, but given the state of her party it will likely be the only Democratic victory on the statewide ballot.

Assuming Heitkamp wins, that is. Which she may not, Campbell’s limp noodle candidacy notwithstanding.

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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