Valley News Live’s Chris Berg interviewed Senator Heidi Heitkamp recently and asked her about persistent rumors I’d posted about on the blog a couple of weeks ago which have her running for governor in 2016.
As I wrote at the time, these are just rumors, but they’re being circulated among some pretty well-connected people. And when asked directly about then, Heitkamp doesn’t exactly say no.
The pertinent video starts around the 6:00 mark.
As I wrote before, this would make sense for Democrats. The path out of the political wilderness lays through the governor’s office. The power of that office lays not only in policy-making, but also in the power of patronage. Republicans have a deep bench of candidates who can run for statewide and local elected office because Republicans have owned the Governor’s office for more than two decades. That means decades of Republicans not only controlling the policy agenda but also getting appointments to various state positions.
Democrats, on the other hand, have a paucity of well-known and qualified candidates because state government has essentially been in the control of Republicans. Of the last two Democrats to win statewide elected office, one (former Superintendent Wayne Sanstead) has retired and the other (former Ag Commissioner Roger Johnson) has left the state to serve as president of the National Farmer’s Union.
Heitkamp was a godsend for Democrats in 2012 because she was their only real hope for winning any statewide office. And she barely won.
A US Senator simply doesn’t have the sort of influence over state politics the governor has. Being elected to federal office can certainly open doors to national political money – funds raised nationally by former Democrat Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan as well as former Democrat Rep. Earl Pomeroy were long campaign lifeblood for North Dakota liberals – but it lacks the practical functions and controls in the state the governor’s office has.
If there’s one thing we know about Heidi Heitkamp, it’s that she’s relentlessly ambitious and thirsty for power. Assuming her goal is to revitalize her state party, a move to the governor’s office would make sense. And it wouldn’t be much of a risk. She’d be running for governor with two years left on her Senate term. If she won, she could appoint her successor to the Senate and enjoy serving as the cornerstone of her state party. If she lost, she could keep her Senate seat run for re-election in 2018.
It’s a move that has a lot of reward for Democrats, and not a lot of risk.