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North Dakota Politics: Heitkamp figured the odds in declining governor run

FARGO -- With Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., taking herself out of the race for governor, I say smart move by Heitkamp. Simply put, she has a much better chance of being re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018 than being elected governor in 2016. In this overwhelmingly Republican state, Heitkamp would have faced a very formidable opponent. The Republicans are likely to nominate either Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem or Fargo entrepreneur Doug Burgum.

Wrigley’s stock has slipped a little because of his extramarital affair, but he remains a viable candidate. He is polished, and has made a name for himself as North Dakota’s U.S. attorney and as lieutenant governor.

Stenehjem has great experience with 24 years as a state legislator and 14 years as attorney general. He’s also a proven vote-getter.

Burgum is a very successful businessman, and North Dakotans have a history of electing them. In recent years, businessmen Ed Schafer and John Hoeven became very popular governors. With Burgum’s vocal support for equality for gays and lesbians, he would also have lots of appeal to Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans. With his wealth, Burgum could also run as an independent and would be a very strong candidate.

Heitkamp might have been elected governor, but it would have been tough. Some of her supporters might have even voted against her because they preferred her to remain in the Senate. If Heitkamp ran and was defeated for governor in 2016, she could have been perceived as damaged goods in running for the Senate two years later. Opponents would certainly claim she’s only running for the Senate because she lost the race for governor. Moreover, if Heitkamp was elected governor, Republicans would likely have picked up her vacant Senate seat. Still, Heitkamp was the Democrats’ best chance for reclaiming the governor’s office.

As a moderate incumbent Democrat, Heitkamp is well positioned to be re-elected to the Senate, although Congressman Kevin Cramer could make it a competitive race.

Shaw is a former Fargo TV reporter and director

who writes a column for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead,

which is a part of Forum News Service.