What Can North Dakota’s House Race Tell Us About The Senate Race?


There is a lot of anxiety in North Dakota about the US Senate race between Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Rick Berg. Heikamp is the underdog, and has a lot to overcome in terms of her past support for President Obama and his unpopular policies, but she’s run a strong campaign far exceeding the expectations of most, while Berg’s campaign has seemed lethargic at time and prone to mistakes.

Then again, Heitkamp had a pretty low bar to get over to exceed expectations. In 2010 the Democrats’ Senate candidate got just over 22% of the vote. It doesn’t take much in the way of competence to look very, very good by contrast.

Still, though, perception is reality, and some in North Dakota are filling the vacuum of hard and reliable polling data in the race (the last poll was more than a month ago from Rasmussen which had Berg leading by 9 points) with fears of Heitkamp holding the state’s Senate seat for the Democrats.

But here’s an interesting question: What does the House race tell us about the Senate race?

For Republicans, there is little fear over that outcome. Kevin Cramer seems to be on cruise control, while Pam Gulleson’s campaign seems to be flailing, trying to gain traction with something. Barring some unforeseen scandal, Cramer is going to come away the victor.

How does that impact the Senate race? It’s hard to imagine voters casting their ballots overwhelmingly for Cramer, but then choosing Heitkamp in the Senate race. And that goes for the rest of the ballot as well. Governor Jack Dalrymple is expected to beat Democrat challenger Ryan Taylor by a wide margin, and there is so little worry among Republicans for the rest of the statewide races, every one of which features a Republican incumbent, that a prominent Republican elected official mentioned to me that he couldn’t even remember the names of the Democrat challengers.

Now, my friends on the left might argue that North Dakota has a long history of ballot-splitting. It wasn’t so long ago that Republican Governor John Hoeven was winning lopsided victories on the same ballot that Democrats Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan and Earl Pomeroy were winning lopsided re-election to federal office. That’s a valid point, but remember that North Dakotans just elected Berg in 2010 while they haven’t voted for Heitkamp since the late 1990’s.

Berg benefits from the perception, if not the technical reality, of incumbency thanks to his victory in the House race last cycle. And incumbency is a potent thing in North Dakota politics.

I suspect that we’ll be getting some reliable independent polling in North Dakota’s top-of-the-ticket races soon, and that this polling will confirm that the Senate race is still Berg’s to lose. Until then, though, it wouldn’t hurt the Berg campaign to shake the lead out.

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.

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  • dakotacyr

    wow, you like to make shit up! Oh wait, this is your opinion and not based on any facts. Got it now. Heidi is well known and well liked in North Dakota. She is running a great campaign and Berg is floundering. His party’s high expectations that this was a gimme seat for the republicans have been dashed and they have to spend millions on this race. Berg can’t even do an attack right and does and epic fail on that. GPS has had to pull ads.

    Berg can’t figure out what to do. He can’t get the farm bill passed and now we find out that the House will recess next week without getting their work done. The farmers were counting on him and Kristi Noem to get the bill to the floor and again, an epic fail.

    He is in big trouble.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      You know, just because I offer up an analysis of these races that you disagree with doesn’t mean I’m just “making things up.” I’m putting in my two cents.

      When you react with such anger and cursing, I usually know something I’ve written is more true than you care to admit. I strike a nerve, and all that.

      • Dakotacyr

        Anger? And you call me out for saying shit? Really? An “analysis” is ususally based on facts, but your “analysis” is in a fact free zone.

        As I said, people remember Heidi and they like her she was 8 years as AG and 8 years as Tax Commissioner. People like her and they don’t like Berg. He is flailing around trying to throw as much mud hoping something sticks.

        Flies all the way from DC to hold a press conference to attack Heidi and then doesn’t even have his ducks in a row. Epic fail for him this week.

        And then his buddies in Congress decide to leave town next week without even bringing the much needed farm bill up for a vote.

        Big trouble if he comes home empty handed next week.

        • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

          So, aside from my conclusions which are just my opinions, what was unfactual?

          • tomorrowclear

            Nothing, except you don’t actually believe Berg is up 9 points. Not for a second. It’s one of the reasons you devote more time and space to Heitkamp than any other person. I’d be worried if I were you, as well. Berg’s an abysmal candidate running a poor campaign. People don’t like him and the candidates who generally win in this type of race are candidates that people like.

          • Dino

            Nice try doorknob. Rob has done a great (and fair) job reporting on the campaigns. People don’t like Berg? Sure, keep telling yourself that champ.

          • tomorrowclear

            You need to take this argument up with Rob, whose headline from two months ago was, “Sometimes It Seems Like Rick Berg is Trying to Make People Not Like Him.” Rob has also noted numerous times that Heitkamp comes off as more personable to voters. He also notes that Republicans acknowledge this fact.

            Either you’re Rick himself, or you’re probably family. His clan in the central part of the state seems to do a fairly good job of trying to uphold his image. Are you from that craphole of Harvey, by any chance?

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            I do think Heitkamp is better at the “kissing babies” part. I don’t think that will be enough to overcome her other problems.

          • tomorrowclear

            I’ll take that as a “yes.”

            Can you imagine that specimen actually being interviewed by national media? He can’t even handle an interview on local hick TV with stammering and sputtering out nonsense. You know, there is some value in being able to articulate an independent thought.

            Being able to form an independent thought is also valuable, by the way.

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            I don’t think it’s fair to take shots at Bergs intelligence. He’s not a great public speaker. So what?

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            I do pay a lot of attention to the Senate race, but thats relative thing. I do think Berg is winning (though I think the race has certainly narrowed), bit its the only race that’s even close.

            How much is there to write about in the Taylor/Dalrymple race?

          • tomorrowclear

            I don’t believe I said you should be talking about other races concerning the state instead of anything else. Your basis for writing off the gubernatorial race is a two-month old poll and the $$$ discrepancy. I give you objective analysis. The GOP will win all three of the state-wide races, but two of your candidates are varying degrees of feebleness. Berg, we can both acknowledge. It’s not as if Dalrymple is Hoeven. No one gets excited about him. I would say a fair number of voters know precious little about him. He’s run for state-wide office before and lost and I believe he never made it higher than the State House of Representatives. Cramer is impressive. He should have been the GOP nominee for Senate. Truth be told, out of those three Dem candidates, Taylor is hands-down the most charismatic. He pulls of the populism better than the other two. If he had the same $$$ as Dalrymple, he’d win by ten points because people like him and the populism he sells, whether you buy it or not, has a lot of appeal.

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            Is Taylor really that charismatic? I see a guy who, while legitimately a rancher, puts way too much stock in his cowboy costume.

            He’s not fundraising because, contrary to what you believe, people really don’t like him.

            But that race won’t be much of a loss for you guys as Dalrymple is basically a ,moderate Democrat.

          • tomorrowclear

            Likability does not equate to fundraising dollars. For example, no GOP presidential candidate was more likable than Tim Pawlenty. He’s pleasant, modest and comes from legitimate humble beginnings. He struggled to raise money because GOP benefactors thought other candidates had a better chance to win. Few give Taylor a chance, so even the many folks who like him are reluctant to give.

            I have yet to speak to anyone who is anything but complimentary of Taylor’s character and disposition. I have spoken to one long-time GOP state senator who has admitted as much.

          • Conservative Soccer Mom

            I like Berg! He has a lot more understanding of what’s wrong with Washington than Heitkamp ever will! Besides, he won’t vote for Harry Reid in the Senate. Maybe the Dems should be a lot more concerned about getting a BUDGET passed than a Farm Bill extension. With a GOP Senate majority, that would get done!

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            In a one-on-one situation, Berg is very personable and very likable. For whatever reason, that just doesn’t translate into public speaking.

          • Conservative Soccer Mom

            True – he just doesn’t think on his feet as quickly as others do, but all that means is he likes to think through things first. Public speaking is important, but not everything. Look at Obama! But he understands the crisis facing our country and has the business acumen to know what will – and won’t – work. And it is dumb to try to hold one freshman congressman “responsible” for the Farm Bill not getting to the Floor – he is a FRESHMAN, not the Speaker, and only one of 450+ members. There are plenty of liberals not wanting it to make it to the floors either, so they don’t have to vote on their precious food stamps getting cut!

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            Well sure, we.shoukd remember that we arent electing a dinner guest. We are electing someone to make the right decisions.

          • tomorrowclear

            Yes, but you probably also were impressed with Ann Romney’s speech at the convention, as well as Sarah Palin.

      • tomorrowclear

        I will grant you that, Rob, but it wasn’t that long ago that you had picked out Gulleson as the candidate who would be the most formidable of the Dems. I have no idea what you were thinking, given that both Heitkamp and Taylor are more engaging candidates and are both facing far less impressive candidates than Gulleson.

        • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

          I was basing that analysis on her fundraising, which was impressive early on, and what I was hearing from Democrats who seemed really high on her.

          You’re right. She’s been disappointing.

    • Dino

      Yeah, usually it’s Berg and Noem at fault for everything that goes wrong in the House. Wow, you really are a jackass.
      Rob reports the news and offers his opinion. He does a good job. He struck a nerve with you and now you’re butt hurt. Pathetic.

      • tomorrowclear

        A nerve certainly has been struck in this thread. A nerve, indeed. Someone is emoting quite “liberally.”

  • dakotacyr

    wow, good thing this is your opinion only.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      So what you’re saying is I’m right on the facts, but you just don’t like my conclusions.

      Why do you get so butt hurt when I express an opinion!

      • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

        That should have been a question mark at the end.

  • VocalYokel

    Heidi’s campaign schtick >>> Pam’s campaign schtick

    Monkey see, monkey do ?

  • Jay

    The last time North Dakota split its statewide House and Senate ballots was in 1980 when Byron Dorgan beat a noname who hardly ran a campaign while Mark Andrews took a promotiion to the Senate. It’s noteworthy that after 1980, North Dakota Dems consolidated their power in the state and became the default congressional party between 1982 and 2008. The state split its Senate and House votes once before that in 1976 when Quentin Burdick held his Senate seat while Mark Andrews won reelection to the House. It’s certainly possible, but given recent trends under the Obama Administration, I find it unlikely North Dakotans will vote for Romney to be President, Dalrymple to be Governor, Cramer to be Congressman, and Heitkamp to be Senator, especially given that Obama and Reid–neither a popular figure in the state–would benefit. Color me skeptical Heitkamp wins.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      That’s a really, really good point.

    • Conservative Soccer Mom

      Definitely agree – and on a more personal note, as a younger person, I don’t even remember Heitkamp being in office! She may have sway with older voters on that one, but not with my friends. They don’t recognize her as much as the Dems would like to think. The 20-30 somethings don’t know her, but they don’t vote as much either…

  • Vergil

    Heidi attracts younger voters. Rick Berg just doesn’t inspire much confidence. He looks like all of the other GOP establishment types who want to lead America into the past (and not the future). Berg is the type of person who is popular with the oldsters,

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      What you’re describing is pretty good for Berg. Younger voters don’t show up at the polls. And North Dakota is an elderly state.