Top GOP Prospect Kevin Cramer Decides Against Senate Run In North Dakota

Republicans are having trouble lining up quality Senate candidates in some key races.

WASHINGTON ― Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota announced Thursday he will not run for Senate in the state, but instead will seek re-election to the House.

The news is a big blow for national Republicans, who hope to oust Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in November and retake a seat in a state Donald Trump carried by about 36 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election. 

Cramer, whose House district encompasses all of North Dakota, met with Trump last week and was urged by the president to challenge Heitkamp.

“He said he would be behind me 100%, even said 1,000% at one point. Yeah, they’d campaign for me whenever I need it; [Vice President Mike Pence] said the same thing,” Cramer said after the meeting.

His decision to pass on the race follows a report by Politico last week that said the congressman “paid his family members more than $150,000 and received more than $200,000 in reimbursements from his campaign account.” While Cramer did not break any laws in doing so, House Democrats have already begun calling for an ethics probe.

Cramer’s viability in a race against Heitkamp was in doubt even before the focus on his campaign finances. National Republicans were reportedly looking at other possible candidates because of his penchant for controversial remarks. These have included describing as “poorly dressed” Democratic women lawmakers who wore white to honor the women’s suffrage movement last February when Trump addressed a joint session of Congress.

So far, state Sen. Tom Campbell is the only Republican who has announced plans to challenge Heitkamp, who won her first term in 2012 by less than 3,000 votes. Holding her seat in this year’s election could be key to Democratic chances of capturing a Senate majority.

North Dakota is the latest state where Republicans have faced problems in fielding a top-tier candidate to challenge a Democratic Senate incumbent this year. In Ohio, state Treasurer Josh Mandel ― the GOP’s top recruit to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown in November ― recently exited the race because of health problems afflicting his wife.

Republican Rep. Jim Renacci announced Thursday he is dropping his bid for Ohio’s governorship and run for the Senate instead. But while Renacci has the backing of the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has other ideas. The GOP leader has reportedly been trying to draft J.D. Vance, author of the best-seller Hillbilly Elegy, to take on Brown. Vance is reportedly “seriously considering” entering the race.