North Dakotans are familiar with hardball politics, having watched a tough GOP gubernatorial primary two years ago and the 2012 race that first sent Heitkamp to Washington. But this race is already showing the signs of a hard-fought contest, and as Mike McFeely, a columnist for the Fargo Forum, put it in February: “Buckle up, North Dakota. The political campaign of your life is about to begin.”
The National Republican Senate Committee, for its part, has hammered Heitkamp on an apparent moment of levity with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer after she voted against an abortion ban. After the Senate Leadership Fund questioned her foreign policy judgement in an ad featuring ailing Syrian children, Heitkamp took to Twitter: “Using poisoned, dead Syrian children in a political attack ad is disgusting, shameful and downright wrong," she wrote.In early May, Heitkamp’s brother—a Fargo radio host—sent a sneering tweet about the divorce of one of the senator’s fiercest media critics, an exchange Heitkamp dismissed as talk-show chatter irrelevant to the campaign. And after Heitkamp’s mother died, the state GOP was criticized for promoting the senator’s unfavorable polling numbers on the day of the funeral, a move the party attributed to a social media scheduling error.Cramer and Heitkamp have shared moments of mutual respect. Notably, days before Cramer’s adult adopted son died in March, the congressman said Heitkamp privately offered her sympathy. But few observers expect amity throughout the race—especially as November nears and as outside groups funnel resources into the state.
“I think that this is likely to be the most expensive race, per vote, in American history."
The day before, Heitkamp sat down on a farm near Grand Forks, about two hours’ drive away. Wearing jeans and settling in for a round-table talk in a barn, she cracked wise with the farmers gathered, cows mooing outside the open door.“You young farmers, you need to learn how to bitch a little bit more,” she joked to one of them, drawing loud laughter. “You’ve gotta learn not to say, ‘It’s all right.’”