FARGO – Heidi Heitkamp made it official by announcing she will seek a second term as U.S. Senator for North Dakota and portrayed herself as a centrist who can work across the aisle to solve problems.
Heitkamp, D-N.D., made the announcement on Wednesday, Sept. 13, the morning after she was one of a handful of senators from both parties who dined with President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss tax reform and other issues.
In an interview with The Forum, Heitkamp said she is running for another six-year term because she is convinced there is an opportunity in Washington for the two parties to work together on important issues, including infrastructure, tax reform as well as energy and farm policy.
“I have a lot of hope that we can actually get some things done in the next year and a half,” she said.
The president made clear that he is seeking tax relief for middle-class taxpayers in addition to simplifying the tax code for individuals and corporations to improve the nation’s economy, Heitkamp said.
“What we heard over and over again last night from the president is he isn’t interested in giving tax breaks to millionaires,” she said.
Heitkamp said she doesn’t agree with some elements of tax reform proposed by the White House, but said nothing can be accomplished unless officials from both parties come together to forge compromise.
“This country deserves a functioning government,” she said. Before she signs off on any tax reform proposal, however, Heitkamp said she will have to see it in writing.
Tax reform wasn’t the only item on the menu for discussion during the bipartisan White House dinner, she said. “We had a great conversation about infrastructure,” Heitkamp said, including rural broadband internet access.
Heitkamp said her 2015 legislation to lift the ban on U.S. oil exports – which also provided support for the production tax credit for wind power – was an example of her ability to fashion bipartisan legislation that benefits North Dakota.
“It was truly a huge win-win for North Dakota,” she said. Now she is working on bipartisan legislation to create tax incentives to support clean coal technology.
But Heitkamp said she is willing to buck Trump when his priorities don’t align with North Dakota’s interests, and gave her support of the U.S. trade deal with South Korea as an example. She said farmers benefit from the trade agreement.
She faces one announced Republican rival, Tom Campbell, a wealthy farmer and state legislator from Grafton, and others are expected to join the GOP race to vie as her challenger in November 2018.
“Senator Heitkamp says all the right things here in North Dakota, but when she’s in Washington she too often sides with Democrat Senate Leader Chuck Schumer and the liberal interest groups to block President Trump’s agenda,” Campbell said in a statement. “North Dakotans deserve a consistent conservative who they can trust to always represent our values in the Senate.”
Heitkamp was narrowly elected to her first term in 2012, and has been seen as vulnerable in her bid for reelection in a deeply red state where Trump received almost 63 percent of the vote.
But Heitkamp has staked out a voting record that is considered moderate and is one of a few Democrats Trump has been wooing in the hope of racking up some legislative victories, including tax reform.
Last week, during an appearance in Mandan, Trump invited Heitkamp to take the stage and called her a “good woman,” a plug political analysts said could help her to appeal to Trump voters.
Before being elected to the Senate, Heitkamp served as North Dakota attorney general and tax commissioner. She narrowly lost a race for governor to Republican John Hoeven, now her Senate colleague, in 2000.
Heitkamp’s announcement was widely expected. She has amassed a campaign war chest of $3 million, according to the latest disclosure filings, and has been maintaining a high profile around the state. Including spending from independent groups, she said the 2012 race probably cost between $30 million and $35 million.
Dustin Peyer, a wildland firefighter from Driscoll, N.D., announced earlier as a Democratic challenger against Heitkamp.