You may not have noticed it, because it's been a subtle sort of thing, but the North Dakota Senate campaign for the 2018 cycle has already begun.

At least for the Democrats, who clearly see Congressman Kevin Cramer as the most likely challenger for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Heitkamp, at least publicly, is saying she hasn't decided on whether she'll run again in 2018. "I haven't locked down what my plans are," she said during a recent sit down with newspapers in Grand Forks and Fargo.

Cramer, too, is being coy about his intentions. "I've not ruled it out," he told Politico about a potential Senate run, "but I will be honest I'm not thinking about it either."

While the candidates posture the activists, at least on the left, are less ambiguous.

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Witness the professional activists for Planned Parenthood, a group that is clearly an ally of Heitkamp's, trying to manufacture controversy by pretending as though Cramer and/or his staff called police to prevent a batch of petitions from being delivered in Fargo.

Spoiler alert: They didn't.

Witness the North Dakota iteration of the group Indivisible which demanded a town hall of Cramer - he obliged only to get shouted at by the group's supporters - but seems far less interested in putting Heitkamp on the spot.

Witness the North Dakota Democratic Party focusing their increasingly shrill messaging on Cramer. After devastating electoral losses in 2016 the party has apparently decided they can win their way back into the good graces of voters by being louder and angrier, and right now they're directing that bile at Cramer.

You can track the obsession on their various social media accounts. Heck, they've even set up a Cramer-specific website to aggregate their talking points at

The obvious intent in these coordinated political assaults is to rough up Cramer. Probably in pursuit of two goals. One obvious, the other less so.

First, Cramer is one of the most successful Republican politicians in the state, and he's yet to reach the apogee of his political career. He's also one of the most polarizing public figures in North Dakota politics. So he's low hanging fruit for the Democrats whatever happens in 2018.

Second, Heitkamp may very well be on the fence about running again in 2018. It's no secret in political circles that she'd rather be our state's governor than a senator in Washington D.C. Also the 2018 cycle is looking to be another rough one for Democrats, all the more so here in North Dakota which was already deeply Republican back in 2012 when Heitkamp was elected to her current term and has become moreso since.

The liberals may need to make Cramer look beatable to lure Heitkamp into running again.

One thing is certain, if 2018 becomes a battle between Cramer and Heitkamp it will be one of the most expensive and hotly contested political contests in our state's history.

Buckle up. We're just getting started.

Port is a Forum News Service columnist. You can read his daily updates at, and reach him on Twitter at @RobPort.