MINOT, N.D. -- Here’s a bold prediction: Former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is probably going to run for governor.
I don’t think she wants to be president of the University of North Dakota. Her name has been thrown around a bit for that job, and while she’s played coy when asked if she’d take the gig, that’s probably more ego than intent.
Heitkamp loves being the center of attention in any given news cycle. Especially when she can be a part of will-she-or-won’t-she speculation.
I think she has her eyes set on a higher prize than university president.
She has the money. According to her most recent filing with the FEC she has over $6 million in cash still sitting in her Senate campaign. There are no restrictions on Heitkamp donating all of that cash to her own gubernatorial campaign.
To put that figure into perspective, Burgum raised over $1.8 million for his 2016 campaign.
She also has the desire. Heitkamp has long coveted the governor’s position, especially since she lost a campaign for it to John Hoeven in 2000. Serving as governor would be redemption for that loss, and for her loss to Sen. Kevin Cramer in the 2018 cycle.
Being governor would also give Heitkamp a strong position from which to serve as the savior of her beleaguered and thoroughly marginalized state party. Veto power over the Legislature, not to mention broad powers of political patronage, would be just the jump start state Democrats need.
And speaking of them, who else are they going to run for governor?
Who are the young up-and-comers who could capture the support of the North Dakota electorate?
Lawmaker Josh Boschee lost his bid for secretary of state last year, while former lawmaker Kylie Oversen lost her campaign for tax commissioner.
Former Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, after losing his seat in the legislature in 2016, lost the U.S. House race in a landslide last cycle.
Former lawmaker Ryan Taylor, once seen as the party’s future, lost statewide elections in 2012 and 2014 before taking an appointment to federal office from President Barack Obama.
He seems an unlikely savior for North Dakota Democrats at this point.
Democrats really have no convincing, top-of-the-ticket candidates outside of Heitkamp.
Even though she’s won exactly one statewide election in the last 23 years.
Despite that, Democrat politicos I’ve spoken to say they’d be surprised if Heitkamp didn’t run.
In the coming months Heitkamp is going to put herself in the headlines as a way to rehabilitate her public image after that stinging loss in 2018.
She’ll then commence some quiet polling later this year, and assuming all goes well with that, she’ll likely announce a gubernatorial campaign in early 2020.
Nothing is certain, but at this point if you were asking me to lay a wager, I’d place it on her running.
Originally this column indicated that Mac Schneider was moving to Minnesota. That was incorrect.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.