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North Dakota congressional races heat up as new candidates enter

Tom Campbell, 58, right, a farmer and Republican state senator from Grafton, announced he would run for the Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. with him in this file photo from July 2014 are Julie Campbell, left, Walsh County Job Development Authority, and Dawn Keeley, executive director of the Red River Regional Council. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service1 / 2
Ben Hanson of Fargo announced Wednesday, Aug. 16, that he will run as a Democratic candidate in the 2018 U.S. House race.2 / 2

FARGO — The simmering campaign for congressional seats in North Dakota heated up with the simultaneous entry of a Democratic candidate for the House and a Republican contender for the Senate, although the incumbents for those seats remain mum about their intentions.

Ben Hanson, 30, of Fargo, a former state House member, announced on Wednesday, Aug. 16, that he will run for the House seat held by U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., since 2013.

Also Wednesday, Tom Campbell, 58, a farmer and Republican state senator from Grafton, announced he would run for the Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who also has been in office since 2013.

Cramer has been widely discussed as a potential GOP challenger for Heitkamp's seat. He has said he's considering such a run, but also said he enjoys serving in the House. Neither Heitkamp nor Cramer have announced their intentions. Both have said they will declare their plans by early fall.

Campbell, noting Heitkamp's seat likely will be among the top 10 Senate races in 2018, said his views are more in line with those of North Dakota voters. Campbell aligned himself with President Donald Trump, who carried North Dakota handily. And polls indicate the president remains popular in the state despite his tumultuous tenure.

"North Dakota has been a big supporter of Trump, and I've been supporting Trump's agenda," Campbell said. In his announcement, Campbell said he wanted to partner with Trump on issues including tax reform.

Campbell also said he wanted to change Obamacare to make premiums more affordable, but did not advocate "repeal and replace," which had long been Republicans' ambition until the effort recently faltered.

'Millions for sure'

Campbell, who earlier considererd a run for governor, also launched a statewide advertising campaign to introduce himself to voters. He said he has traveled thousands of miles in recent months while crisscrossing the state and meeting with voters.

The newcomer to statewide politics said he wasn't trying to get out ahead of Cramer, whom he called a friend, to challenge Heitkamp.

"It's time, pushing the end of August," he said. "I think we need to catch up and jump in."

Although Heitkamp hasn't said she will seek a second term, she has been aggressively raising money. She raised $1.3 million in the second quarter this year, bringing her potential campaign warchest to more than $3 million, according to reports filed last month. A poll last month by Morning Consult said she has a 60 percent voter approval rate.

Campbell is well-aware of the money Heitkamp has in the bank, and vows to run a competitive race. "It's going to be millions for sure," he said of how much money it will take to challenge Heitkamp.

Campbell's campaign released a bio, stressing his farm roots and calling himself a political outsider. He started a custom-combining business at the age of 16, traveling over 1,000 miles to Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska to harvest wheat.

Two years later, Campbell started his first potato farm, an operation that has since significantly grown to include potato packaging and trucking. Campbell bills himself as pro-life and pro-gun.

House race

In the House race, Hanson also is making his first bid for statewide office. An associate broker and marketing director with a local real estate firm, Hanson was elected in 2012 to a North Dakota House seat in a district that includes portions of southern Fargo and West Fargo.

But Hanson was defeated for re-election in 2016, finishing last with 21.5 percent of the vote in a year that Republicans swept his district.

"Those are the facts," Hanson said. "You win some, and you lose some. I'm not a quitter."

Hanson said he decided to enter the race because he believes Cramer is more interested in "parotting partisan talking points" than in representing North Dakota.

"I don't see him putting an emphasis on North Dakota and North Dakota issues," Hanson said. "I don't see him coming back and focusing on his home state as much as he should."

Cramer has been a staunch Trump ally, but Hanson said he would not focus on that in the campaign. "I'm not running against the president," he said. "I'm running against Kevin Cramer."

Cramer and Heitkamp were not available for comment.