FARGO, N.D. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s stepped-up campaign tour this week is taking him to North Dakota to help a Republican candidate who reluctantly entered a high-stakes Senate race and then questioned the support he was getting from the White House.
Rep. Kevin Cramer made it clear he was less than happy with Trump’s friendly treatment of Cramer’s opponent, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, which included her front-row appearance last month when Trump signed a banking bill. Cramer recently called White House Chief of Staff John Kelly asking the campaign to change its approach.
Cramer told The Associated Press that the hubbub was “more about the White House than me,” but some Republicans believe it’s time for Trump, who’s enormously popular in North Dakota, to take on Heitkamp.
“My phone call with Gen. Kelly ... I said I’m not worried about what’s happened in the past, I just want to talk about what we’re going to do moving forward,” Cramer said. “How the president talks about Sen. Heitkamp, really, that’s something the swamp monsters are more concerned about than I am.”
Trump is scheduled to appear at a rally Wednesday evening in a 6,000-seat Fargo hockey arena in a burst of campaign appearances that has included Nevada, Minnesota and South Carolina. Though he’s certain to talk up Cramer’s candidacy, he may spend the bulk of his time defending his administration’s policies on immigration and trade, or reminiscing about his 36-point victory in North Dakota in 2016.
Ahead of the midterm election, and with Senate control at stake, Republicans are eyeing Heitkamp’s seat as a top pickup opportunity. She won her first term by only about 3,000 votes, and both sides have stockpiled millions for the race.
Soon after Trump’s 2016 win, he invited Heitkamp to New York to discuss a Cabinet post, and she has said he tried to persuade her to switch parties. When Trump traveled to North Dakota last fall to promote the tax bill, she traveled with him on Air Force One and joined him on stage, where he called her “a good woman.”
It wasn’t until earlier this month that Trump took his first public swipe at Heitkamp with a tweet that said she “always will vote no when we need her.” He singled out her vote against the tax cut legislation.
Heitkamp told the AP she’s curious how Trump will portray her record, which she says has favored many issues the president cares about, like environmental and banking regulations. She has also opposed him at times, including a statement Tuesday warning that the administration’s trade tactics could hurt North Dakota manufacturers of agriculture machinery, which she said accounts for 50 percent of the state’s exports to the European Union.
“I think that it is probably fair to say that he will not be calling me a good woman,” Heitkamp said. She said she hoped the president will sit down with farmers and oil industry people “who have been calling me and are concerned about trade wars” as the result of tariffs imposed by Trump.
Cramer said he understands the anxiety of North Dakota producers, but believes most of them support Trump.
“Some of the lobbyists express a different view, and the Farmers Union, but the rancher that is pulling the calf out of the cow or the farmer digging his hand into the dirt, they love this guy. And they ought to,” Cramer said. “The regulations that he has rolled back, the tax cuts that he has brought to them, and hopefully the better trade deals he is going to get for them in this long term play he’s in, will cement that.”
One of the first in Congress to back Trump, Cramer originally decided against running for Senate but changed his mind after he said the president “begged” him to challenge Heitkamp. Cramer said he’s running on the accomplishments of the president and Republican majority in the first 18 months.
He said he wasn’t sure whether he will be called upon to speak.