I've been having a lot of conversations with liberal friends of mine about North Dakota's 2018 Senate race.
They're awfully confident. So much so they remind me of another group of people.
Republicans in the 2012 election cycle (including this right-of-center observer, I must sheepishly admit).
We were so very confident back then that Rick Berg, fresh off the 2010 cycle where he upset 10-term incumbent Earl Pomeroy for North Dakota's at-large U.S. House seat, would steamroll Heidi Heitkamp and flip that Senate seat to Republicans too.
After all, Heitkamp hadn't been in the political spotlight in North Dakota for more than a decade at that time, and she was forced to campaign alongside Barack Obama, a deeply unpopular President in this neck of the woods.
The word for our attitude was hubris. We thought Berg couldn't lose. But then Heitkamp out worked him, running a pitch-perfect campaign, and it turned out Berg could lose after all.
I wonder if Democrats will have to learn a similar lesson in 2018?
Certainly they're aware that Heitkamp is vulnerable. They're concerned about the various Republican challengers. The orchestrated smear campaign Heitkamp's various surrogates ran against Congressman Kevin Cramer, up until he opted not to run for the Senate, is evidence enough of that.
But now that Cramer's not running you get the sense that our liberal friends feel they've already won. You get the feeling Heitkamp thinks she's already won.
A Democratic incumbent in a deeply red state doesn't high-five Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor after voting down a bipartisan abortion bill unless they're feeling awfully confidence.
Perhaps too confident.
I can tell you, after years of watching the North Dakota Republican Party and its candidates battle complacency amid political dominance, that's not a safe place to be.
You can count me among the critics of state Sen. Tom Campbell, the NDGOP's first announced Heitkamp challenger. I'm still not convinced that he can articulate a winning message against some as skilled in the art of politics and mudslinging as Heitkamp is.
He could surprise us, though.
Gary Emineth, on the other hand, is an intriguing candidate. Can he raise enough money to beat Heitkamp? Can he rebuild some of the bridges he burned with his own party back when he was the chairman of the NDGOP?
We may even see more Republican candidates come out of the woodwork. Now that Cramer has made his decision, it wouldn't surprise me if other candidates (including some who have already said they wouldn't run) decide to join the fray.
My point is, despite the cloud of smug currently surrounding Heitkamp and her followers, she does still need to win an election before she gets another term in office.