FARGO — Former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee Friday, March 6, using her Twitter account and the hashtag #JoeMentum.
The reasons for Heitkamp backing Biden over socialist Bernie Sanders are generally what you'd expect, including but not limited to the fact that Biden isn't a socialist.
"He doesn't just talk about working people — he is working people. He knows what it's like to not be able to pay the grocery bill. His background is a lot like mine; we come from similar circumstances. He understands what it's like to work and have to shower when you get home from work," Heitkamp said.
Heitkamp believes Biden will, at a minimum, pay attention to rural America, an idea she's been preaching that Democrats must do if they hope to win back the presidency and perhaps win a majority in the Senate. Since losing her Senate seat to Kevin Cramer in 2018, Heitkamp has devoted her time to advocacy through her One Country Project.
The Democrats, and particularly their 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign, have ignored rural America since 2008 and, Heitkamp believes, that cost them dearly. Her goal is to push Democrats to again advocate for rural issues in hopes of winning back voters.
Fundamentally, she believes Democratic policies are better for rural areas.
To her skeptics, present company included, Heitkamp says she doesn't believe she'll turn a state like North Dakota from red to blue. I mean, the state continues to support President Donald Trump to the tune of 60-plus percent. If his trade war and the damage it's caused to farmers isn't enough to turn North Dakota against Trump, nothing will.
Heitkamp says her goal is to make the Democrats a viable option for rural voters, perhaps enough to peel some folks away from the Republicans.
So why endorse Biden now?
"I think a state like North Dakota could do a lot in terms of the momentum Joe's built," Heitkamp said. "Let's see if he can keep this going Tuesday or if Bernie can do something to stop it. And if the momentum keeps going for Joe Biden, then maybe it's time we get down to one candidate and start looking forward."
That would be the opposite of what Clinton and the Democrats did in 2016. It cost them in the general election.
North Dakota's firehouse caucuses are Tuesday, March 10. The state will be one of six making a choice that day on the Democratic nominee. The big prize is Michigan's 125 delegates, but even North Dakota's 14 delegates have meaning.
Sanders crushed Clinton in North Dakota in 2016, winning 64% of the district delegates. Clinton won just 25%. If Biden can take North Dakota from Sanders, who has traditionally done well with rural white Democratic voters, it might signal that Sanders doesn't have a viable path forward.
Put simply, Tuesday could be Biden's knockout punch and North Dakota could play a role.
"If you're a rural Democrat and you have to go to the coffee shop everyday and hear about how the Democrats are putting a socialist on the ballot or that all Democrats are socialists, Joe Biden would be the counter to that," Heitkamp said.
And if Biden could appeal to rural voters in North Dakota, at least more than Clinton or Sanders, who is to say he couldn't better appeal to rural voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin?
Trump won those three states by a combined 80,000 votes in 2016, including by just 10,000 votes in Michigan. Winning those three states gave Trump 46 electoral votes. If Clinton had won those states, she'd have won the presidency.
It's a race for 270 electoral votes and Heitkamp, among many others, believes Biden gives the Democrats a much better chance to get there than Sanders.
That's why #JoeMentum and the role North Dakota's caucuses will play in it matter.