Has Heidi Heitkamp Written Off Western North Dakota?

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Things aren’t going well for Heidi Heitkamp in the polls of late. Of the six independent polls conducted in the North Dakota Senate race, two of them show her tied with Rick Berg and four of them show her losing by anywhere from 5 to 10 points. As we come down to the “red zone” in the election season, and with the most recent campaign disclosure reports showing the Heitkamp spending more than she’s taking it, it appears as though her campaign is in triage mode.

Specifically, it appears as though Heitkamp has all but written off the western part of the state. The Heitkamp campaign keeps a careful chronicle of the candidate’s campaign events on their official Twitter feed, and a review of the postings there indicate very few trips into the western part of the state in the 84 days since August 1.

Heitkamp made a trip west in September, stopping in Dickinson and Mott during a trip that seemed planned to coincide with her address to the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting in Medora. In October Heitkamp made a stop in New Town to campaign on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, and in August Heitkamp made stops in Glen Ullin and Dickinson.

Aside from those stops, Heitkamp doesn’t appear to have ventured any further west than Minot and Bismarck. Not even to Williston, the heart of the Bakken oil boom (it appears as though Heitkamp’s last trip there was in February ).

Focusing a political campaign on the eastern part of the state may make sense given that most of North Dakota’s population is there, but western North Dakota is by far the fastest growing part of the state. So much so that Republicans have invested in a big get-out-the-vote operation there.

I wrote earlier this month that voters in the western part of the state may well be a wildcard in the Senate race. Polling done in the state may not be taking into account the rapid population growth out west. The assumption, seemly backed up by Heitkamp’s campaign habits, is that western voters are going to tilt heavily toward Republicans. The question is how many of the state’s new citizens in the west will turn up to vote?

If they turn out in force, Berg may have a bigger win here in North Dakota than many expect.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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