With the election this week, the state's most contentious race, is the one for the US senate seat. Kevin Cramer and Heidi Heitkamp have different, yet similar upbringings.
The small town of Mantador, population of no more than 70 people. Before becoming a senator, before entering politics, before even entering the limelight, this is where Heidi Heitkamp grew up.
"It's hard to believe, and I'm sure I do, come from the smallest town of any United States Senator," says Heitkamp. This school where her mother was the cook, now abandoned, she comes from a working class family.
"That's part of who i am and part of what I bring," says Heitkamp. For Heidi, there's no better place to call home. "I think what you find as you get older, those places that don't just hold high school or childhood memories, those places that forged your values; you come back and you get strength from those places," Heitkamp says.
This time, she returns for a specific reason, to honor veterans; something close to the hearts of the Heitkamp family. "To our whole family it's so important, all of my dad's brothers including my dad serving in the armed services, it continues through our whole life," says Heidi's sister, Holly Heitkamp.
Her father, Ray Heitkamp, helped build the town and founded Mantador's VFW as the first commander. "When my dad died, my dad died young, it was Armon Tieggs that gave my mom that flag and I'll never forget him, that legacy lives on in all of us, who grew up here, who danced at wedding dances here, who celebrated life and a funeral here in this building, it's part of what brings us all together in mantador," says Heitkamp.
Now it's a room filled with memories of past and present heroes The commander of the VFW for 20 years, Lyle Prochnow, continues to carry on the legacy Heidi's father and is happy at the one Heidi's created.
"I am very proud of Heidi, very proud of her family. A United States Senator came from this town, and everybody that's in and around this town is like yeah; it makes them very proud," says Prochnow. Heidi remembers when she was first sworn into office, she gavaled it in, turned to lead the senate in the pledge of allegiance and it was then when memories of how she got there, came rushing back.
"...And as i was doing that, i started getting choked up because I thought here I am, a woman from Mantador North Dakota but I can serve in the U.S. Senate," says Heitkamp. She's proven that a small-town girl, can go a long way.
Mantador's entire population is about 70 people, roughly the same amount as in Kevin Cramer's graduating class in Kindred. WDAY News Reporter Hannah Schlosser went to Kindred to explore where Cramer called home.
He told us that parts of that town laid the foundation for who he is today. Welcome to Kindred, where kindness is a way of life. Kevin Cramer will tell you it's also family, it's faith.
"Seems a little bit like a story book now, but it was very normal growing up," says Cramer. It's here where he played under the friday night lights, or where he'd cross the tracks to get to a buddy's house after the big game, or even where his confirmation picture still hangs in the basement of the church.
It's all part of his past, but each little piece still very much part of who he is. "I'm pretty nostalgic, but at the same time, I like looking through the windshield as much as at the rear view mirror. What's behind you is pretty informative to where you're going, but where you're going is also very exciting," Cramer says.
Much of who he is today, he says was built on his dad's "roll up your sleeves" work ethic. "I'm the son of a rural electric lineman who had an 11th grade education," Cramer says. Part of the proof was even here at the cafe we sat down to chat in.
Kevin's mom extended her family and faith to the Guiles family over a decade ago when they first moved to town. "Clarice really did help my mom and my dad meet people here, and if she hadn't I don't know where we'd be now," says Cramer family friend Emma Guiles.
Now, the two still make small talk over lemon meringue pie at the Morning Glory a couple times a week. That friendship, like many for the Cramers, was founded on his roots in the church. "Praying was just as common as homework. I do think faith is part of that fabric that's woven into the town and lots of communities throughout North Dakota," says Cramer.
No matter how forward focused, he'll never forget where he came from. "I might be a senator, but if not, I've been a congressman for 6 years - that's a testimony to those people," Cramer says.