As the midterm season heats up, the White House and President Donald Trump have begun to boost pro-Trump Republicans running for office. Across the board, Republican candidates in-line with the president’s agenda are receiving his well wishes — except for one: Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).
Trump’s support for his opponent, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), is wearing on Cramer, whom Trump personally recruited to challenge Heitkamp. And for now, it appears Heitkamp will continue to enjoy some Trump support.
What’s going on?
The fight for control of the Senate this year will be tight, so every seat matters for Republicans who want to retain their majority and Democrats who want to retake it. That’s why some Republicans, especially Cramer, are so frustrated over Trump’s affinity for Heitkamp.
Indeed, Trump is openly supportive of Heitkamp, whom he allegedly considered for a Cabinet position and urged to switch parties. Last month, Trump personally thanked Heitkamp and shook her hand during a bill signing at the White House. That bill eased banking regulations put in place by the infamous Dodd-Frank legislation. Meanwhile, Cramer stood in the back at the signing.
“It’s obscene,” Cramer told the Washington Post of Heitkamp’s Trump-posturing.
The close relationship between Trump and Heitkamp has also put Cramer at odds with a key member of Trump’s administration. During a radio interview last month, Cramer took aim at Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, for inviting Heitkamp to the bill signing. Heitkamp was the only Democrat present.
According to the Post, Cramer contacted White House chief of staff John Kelly on June 1 to discuss his issues. It’s not clear what has come from that conversation. However, the Post reported the relationship between Cramer and Short is improving after a private conversation.
Why does Cramer think Trump favors Heitkamp?
Speaking to the Post, Cramer attributed the friendliness to the fact that Heitkamp is a 62-year-old woman.
“I do think there’s a little difference in that she’s a woman. That’s probably part of it — that she’s a, you know, a female. He doesn’t want to be that aggressive, maybe. I don’t know,” said Cramer, 57.
What does Heitkamp think?
She’s happy for the support, no doubt, and has been moving closer to the center since last year. She disavowed Hillary Clinton — whom she supported in the 2016 presidential election — and released an ad boasting that she is the “most conservative Democrat in Washington.”
She told the Post that Cramer’s “theory falls apart almost immediately,” explaining that Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is a woman of whom Trump is very critical.
However, as the Post noted, Heitkamp is not branding herself as a Trump-supporting Democrat. Instead, as opposed to Cramer who is highlighting his Trump-ness, Heitkamp is painting herself a politician who is not beholden to party politics.
In a different recent ad, she tells voters: “I only answer to you!”
Will Trump campaign for Cramer?
According to the lone North Dakota congressman, yes, but he isn’t sure when.
“It’d be fun to have him out. And I expect he’ll come to North Dakota. He promised me he would,” Cramer told the Post.
Cramer won the Republican primary on Tuesday with nearly 88 percent of the vote over Thomas O’Neill.
What does Trump say now?
On the heels of Cramer’s primary win, Trump finally gave Cramer a shot in the arm. The president tweeted Wednesday afternoon that he “strongly” endorses Cramer, while hitting Heitkamp for voting against tax reform and not being a reliable supporter of his agenda.
Congratulations to @KevinCramer on his huge win in North Dakota. We need Kevin in the Senate, and I strongly endorse him. Heidi voted NO on our Tax Cuts, and always will vote no when we need her. Kevin is strong on Crime & Borders, big on Cutting Taxes!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
Editors Note: This story was updated to add information about Trump’s tweet.