You haven’t beaten Heidi Heitkamp yet, Republicans

As I write this column there is much jubilation from Republicans in my social media feeds over Congressman Kevin Cramer finally announcing his campaign for the Senate.

There is also much snarling from my left wing friends who had thought, when Cramer previously announced in January that he’d be staying in the House, they became convinced that Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s re-election would be a layup.

That won’t be the case. Cramer is all but assured the NDGOP’s nomination for the Senate race — state Senator Tom Campbell is already on the record saying he’d switch to the House race if Cramer made this move and the other Republican candidates in the field aren’t serious contenders.

Buckle up, North Dakota. You’re about to witness one of the most expensive, most vigorously contested political contests in state history.

I can’t figure out if Cramer’s dithering on his Senate announcement was calculation or genuine indecision.

He certainly seems to have irked his friend and fellow Republican Gary Emineth, who bigfooted Cramer’s own Senate announcement earlier this week when he canceled his own Senate campaign and announced that Cramer was in.

I can also report that Cramer seemed less than enthused when I contacted him Feb. 9 to confirm that he was reconsidering a Senate campaign, a story I broke later that evening. I got the feeling the Congressman wished that news had been kept under wraps.

However it happened, the slow march toward candidacy for the U.S. Senate has earned Cramer national media attention. North Dakota’s Senate race is squarely on the radar of the nation.

That’s very, very good for Cramer.

Republicans, though, should be wary of hubris. This campaign isn’t won for Republicans because Cramer is in it anymore than it was lost because he wasn’t.

Those inclined to believe that “Heitkamp is toast” (as I’m seeing put so often on social media) should remember how the incumbent out worked Republican Rick Berg in 2012 to earn her current Senate seat.

Remember that it was Heitkamp’s savaging of Berg — a campaign of character assassination and personal destruction waged by the Senator’s surrogates such as her talk radio host brother — that gave the Congressman pause in announcing this campaign in the first place.

When I spoke with Cramer previously he talked earnestly about the impact of this sort of a campaign on his family. Again, after seeing what Heitkamp and her team did to Berg, it’s hard not to be sympathetic to those concerns.

Still, it should be heartening to Republicans that Cramer is approaching this race with a degree of humility. He knows what’s in store for him. He knows he’s going to have to earn an election victory.

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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