Winning statewide office as a Democrat in North Dakota should be impossible.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is running for re-election in North Dakota and has a lifetime 89 percent rating from the AFL-CIO.

In the 2016 election, Donald Trump won by nearly 36 points; Republican Sen. John Hoeven, won by 62 points. Yet, six years ago, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp prevailed over Republican Rick Berg. It was a squeaker, but a win nonetheless.

The key to understanding how one of the most Republican states sent Heitkamp to Washington, said Eleventh District International Representative Mark Hager, is that North Dakotans have always been comfortable with a certain kind of Democrat. Like former Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, Heitkamp is what Hager calls a “High Plains pragmatist.”

“She is the definition of a moderate: not way on the left or way on the right. And people in North Dakota just like her,” he said.

Her opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer, is the opposite, Hager said.

“He’s more your run-of-the-mill pro-rich Republican,” he said. 

Just in the last two years, Cramer voted to repeal the oversight of Big Banks enacted after the financial crisis. He not only voted for budget-busting tax breaks for the richest Americans, he voted for the budget that was busted, creating a nearly $1 trillion annual deficit and sticking our children with the $22 trillion debt.

Cramer has repeatedly voted to weaken collectively bargained protections for public workers, voted to impose drug testing before workers can receive unemployment insurance and to allow companies with violations of wage and safety rules to bid on federal contracts. He also voted to repeal the reporting requirement for many workplace injuries.

Heitkamp had a 100 percent rating from the AFL-CIO for 2017 and has a lifetime rating of 89 percent. Cramer’s lifetime score is just 20 percent.

Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer has repeatedly voted to weaken collective bargaining protections and worker safety.

Heitkamp’s strength is in the eastern part of the state in university towns, with their growing technology businesses. And although only seven percent of the state’s workers are union, they are highly concentrated in the booming energy business and will play an outsize role in getting voters to the polls, Hager said.

Her best chance, he reasoned, is turning over some of the state’s large and powerful agriculture community. The trade war with China has slammed the door shut on the state’s enormous soy bean crop.  Without China the producers in North Dakota have no market for their crop. Grain elevators are full. Farmers are stashing their crop in abandoned buildings or any available structures they can find. Prices have fallen nearly 20 percent since China stopped importing American soy beans.

“They are getting creamed. It has the Ag community bent out of shape, and they are after Cramer for agreeing to everything thrown up by Trump,” Hager said. “They like what Heitkamp has to say, and that will help her across the state.”

It is true that the recent polls haven’t been great, he said. Heitkamp has consistently trailed Cramer by between five and eight points.

And yet, six years ago, the polls were just as bad, Hager said. And Heitkamp won.

“She still has a chance. It will be a tight race. Cramer is not very likeable and hasn’t ever been,” said Hager. “It is the same as six years ago. It is all about getting the votes out.”

Now, Heitkamp is in one of the closest Democrat-held Senate races on the ballot this November.

If the Democrats have any hope of taking control of the Senate, all of their incumbents, including Heitkamp, have to win, or they will face an even more empowered Senate full of people like Cramer.

Early voting has already started. Hager says he already sent in his ballot. All that is left now is turnout, and working people voting for working families’ issues is what could put her over the top.

“I don’t think any of us know how this will end up. It has been a close race from day one, but if she wins, it will be a victory for the working men and women of this state,” he said.