GRAND FORKS - Former Vice President Joe Biden will headline the North Dakota Democratic-NPL State Convention next month in Grand Forks, a move to support U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's bid for re-election in what likely will be a highly contested race.

Biden will be the keynote speaker March 17 at the Alerus Center, the North Dakota Democratic Party confirmed to Forum News Service on Sunday, Feb. 18. He said in a prepared statement he looks forward to supporting Heitkamp in her campaign.

"Heidi lives and breathes North Dakota-she fights with every fiber of her being for rural America," he said in the statement. "Heidi has been a strong leader in the Senate and most importantly, she gets the job done for the people she serves."

The state convention will be held March 15-18, when delegates will endorse candidates in state and national races for the 2018 election.

Biden reached out to Heitkamp to ask what he could do to help her campaign, Heitkamp told the Herald. From there, her campaign office and the state Democratic Party worked with Biden's representatives to bring him to North Dakota, according to state Democratic Party Chair Kylie Oversen.

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"It speaks to the importance of the races that we have coming up, from U.S. Senate on down, that he will be making that trip," Oversen said, adding his visit is a good opportunity to hear from a national politician.

Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, said there were several people considered for the keynote speech in Grand Forks, but Biden was at the top of the list.

"We definitely think that it is so important that we focus this convention on working people, and no one speaks more for working men and women in this country than Joe Biden," Heitkamp said.

Stumping for Heitkamp

Planning the details of Biden's visit has been "a couple of weeks" in the making, Heitkamp said. The announcement comes days after U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Friday in Bismarck he would run for Heitkamp's Senate seat.

Cramer initially said he would seek re-election to his seat in the House. But he said he reconsidered after voters from North Dakota and other politicians, including President Donald Trump, urged him to run for Senate.

"He literally said, 'Think of your country, not of yourself,'" Cramer said Friday.

Heitkamp faces a challenger in her own party-Dustin Peyer, a firefighter from Driscoll, N.D. Others in the race include Republicans Paul Schaffner of Minot and former Niagara, N.D., Mayor Thomas O'Neill.

Heitkamp's campaign office confirmed Biden is supporting her bid for re-election. When asked to what extent Biden would be stumping for her in the Senate race, Heitkamp said the campaign isn't about national politicians coming to North Dakota to tell voters how to vote.

"I want Joe Biden here because I think he understands the rich history the Dem-NPL Party has in representing the working people," she said. "At the end of the day, people in North Dakota aren't going to make up their mind on this Senate race based on what the Republicans or what the former vice president say."

Biden himself has been weighing a potential presidential run in 2020, according to various media reports. The Washington Post reported Sunday Biden was keeping his options open and that a 2020 campaign is "a real possibility," but he hasn't made a decision yet.

Heitkamp said Biden hasn't given her any hints for potential 2020 plans, calling the speculation "really premature."

Oversen called Biden a man who served with integrity in the face of adversity, including the 2015 death of his son, Beau, after a battle with brain cancer.

"With someone like Joe Biden, he represents the best that we have in politics," she said. "We're just really excited to have someone like him coming to our convention."

Heitkamp said Biden is an energizing speaker who is loved by many, including some of her Republican friends.

"He is who a politician should be, which is accessible, empathetic and really just (has) a rich history," she said.