Nationally Democrats are focusing on President Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney. In North Dakota, they’re jubilant over Heidi Heitkamp’s apparent win over Rick Berg, a race which many observers (including myself, I’ll take my lumps) had all but called for Berg weeks ago.
But Democrats should keep this sobering fact in mind: Over the last two cycles they’ve lost two of the federal seats they held, and apparently just barely held on to a Senate seat that had been in Democrat hands since Quentin Burdick first won it from Republicans in 1960.
The Secretary of State has yet to certify the results – that should happen later this week – and as long as the outcome stays within a 2% margin Berg will need to decide whether or not he wants a recount. Yet, assuming the results hold up, Heitkamp won a very, very narrow victory after a campaign in which she had to move very far to the right to get traction.
Meanwhile, all the Republican incumbents held their offices by wide margins. Governor Jack Dalrymple was elected to his own term, after finishing former Governor John Hoeven’s term, by a wide margin. Kevin Cramer took over Berg’s seat, handily beating challenger Pam Gulleson. Republicans even picked up a statewide seat, electing Kirsten Baesler to the Department of Public Instruction, a seat long held by Democrat Wayne Sanstead.
In the legislature Democrats picked up two seats in the state Senate, but lost two seats in the House, an unsurprising outcome given redistricting and the fact that it was hard to fathom the Republican majority int he legislature getting much larger.
Put together, it shows a continuing trend toward Republicans in North Dakota. Even the Senate race can be considered part of that trend. The last time Democrats defended that seat Kent Conrad won re-election handily with 68% of the vote. This time around they held it (pending possible recount) by less than 1%.
One thing to keep in mind: Kevin Cramer had better start campaigning for re-election to his House seat now. In 2014 he’ll be at the top of the ballot by himself – no Senate race and no governor’s race – and if Heitkamp emerges the winner she’ll be a funnel for lots of national money into a race Democrats will definitely have in their sights.