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Expecting Cramer to run, ND Republican candidate drops out of US Senate race

Rep. Kevin Cramer answers questions from the Grand Forks Herald editorial board Wednesday afternoon. Joshua Komer / Forum News Service

BISMARCK—A North Dakota Republican dropped his short-lived bid for U.S. Senate Tuesday, Feb. 13, in anticipation of Rep. Kevin Cramer joining the race, although the third-term congressman was mum about his intentions.

Cramer said a month ago he would seek re-election to the U.S. House instead of pursuing a challenge against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, the only Democrat elected to statewide office in North Dakota. But he said Friday he was "mildly reconsidering" his decision.

Cramer made no formal announcement regarding his intentions Tuesday but said in a text message that he'll be back in Bismarck Friday. But former state Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth, who announced his own Senate bid two weeks ago, dropped out Tuesday to make way for Cramer.

In a statement posted online, Emineth said he was "unwilling to take on a popular incumbent who has done much to endear himself to his constituents." He said a CNN story that highlighted several of his inflammatory social media posts had no impact on him.

Emineth told Forum News Service Tuesday he talked to Cramer and expects he will run for Senate.

Emineth, who managed Cramer's 2012 House campaign through the primary election, said Cramer is "getting lots of pressure from DC and around the country" as well as encouragement from the White House. Cramer has been a consistent supporter of President Donald Trump, who won North Dakota by 36 points in 2016.

In announcing he would run for re-election last month, Cramer cited House retirements that were boosting his influence and a desire to spend time with family. The North Dakota Democratic-NPL criticized Cramer Tuesday for "dancing around a Senate run."

Tom Campbell, a Republican state senator and potato farmer from Grafton, has been campaigning for the Senate since last year. But new fundraising reports show he's well behind Heitkamp as he largely self-funds his campaign.

Campbell didn't return a message Tuesday.

Cramer, a former state Republican Party chairman and member of the Public Service Commission, was first elected to the House in 2012. He has been re-elected twice, earning 69 percent of the vote in 2016.

North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Kelly Armstrong, a state senator from Dickinson, said he wasn't aware of Cramer's intentions but noted "there's a lot of smoke." He said the race could tip the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans currently hold a slim majority.

"I think we have a good shot either way, but ... I think it would be disingenuous to say that Kevin wouldn't be our absolute best shot," Armstrong said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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