Big news: Top GOP Senate recruit in North Dakota may run after all, challenging Democrat Heitkamp

It was bananas that the party was having trouble enticing their preferred candidate into running for a Senate seat in a state as red as North Dakota, however blue the national political environment looks to be this fall. Heitkamp won by one thin point in 2012, when Democrats were cleaning up nationwide with Obama topping the ballot. There’ll be no Obama this fall. All the GOP needs to flip this seat, in all probability, is a quality pol with some name recognition.

Sounds like they’ve got it — finally.

Rep. Kevin Cramer could run against North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, after all — potentially reversing one of Republicans’ biggest recruiting misses of the 2018 midterm elections.

Cramer is “seriously considering” entering the race, according to a Republican with knowledge of the push to get Cramer to run…

Cramer on Friday told the Bismarck Tribune that he is “mildly reconsidering” the Senate race, but that “not a lot has changed.”

Cramer announced on January 11 that he wouldn’t challenge Heitkamp, preferring to stay in the lower chamber as it would give him more time to spend with his young son. Republicans freaked out. Cramer represents the entire state of North Dakota in the House, giving him an unusual degree of statewide name recognition for a congressman — a highly desirable quality in a Senate candidate, needless to say. With Jeff Flake’s and Dean Heller’s seats looking iffy and Tennessee a dark-horse pick-up opportunity for Democrats, the GOP badly needs to flip North Dakota to give its majority some breathing room in the Senate. And here was their top recruit, saying “thanks, but no thanks.” Disaster.

Two back-up candidates entered the race instead. One, former state party chair Gary Emineth, was … less than ideal. The other, state senator Tom Campbell, was … less than ideal as well. Cramer was ideal — an established pol, a Trump ally who’d have no issues with any populist opposition, a guy whom one GOP operative described as possibly “the most heavily recruited candidate in the history of Republican politics.” That’s how confident they are that he can knock off Heitkamp and take back the seat. But he refused to run.

Until this afternoon, when news of his apparent reversal came from, errrr, Gary Emineth:

Republican Friend:

While Congressman Cramer was my first choice to take on Heidi Heitkamp at the outset, I have to admit I had warmed up to the idea of taking her on myself. The timing seemed right if not serendipitous; I was ready to go.

However, given his decision to enter the race, I find myself unwilling to take on a popular incumbent who has done much to endear himself to his constituents. Cramer’s accessibility and service on behalf of the people of North Dakota are exemplary. There is a lot at stake in this election and we as Republicans must rally the troops and unite to endorse the candidates for both the House and Senate who have the best shot at winning the election this fall. Therefore, I am withdrawing my name as a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Let’s make this the year that we in North Dakota do our part to “Take Back Washington” by electing Republicans and making it three for three!

This is, in another words, a Rubio reversal in which the field clears for the strongest candidate once he enters, not a Corker reversal in which things get ugly. No word yet on what Campbell’s planning to do, but in light of the oppo on him related to his bank foreclosing on North Dakota farmers, the smart play would be to stay in the party’s good graces by stepping aside as well and clearing the field for Cramer. There’ll be another Senate or gubernatorial vacancy eventually and the GOP’s much more likely to support his candidacy then if he’s a team player now.

Assuming Cramer is indeed in, what’s left of the Democrats’ hopes of flipping the Senate? They might get Flake’s and Heller’s seats but Cramer will probably get one back in North Dakota. That’s a 50/50 Senate, with Mike Pence still the tiebreaker. And there are all sorts of other red-state Democrats — Tester, McCaskill, Donnelly, etc — who’ll need to win just to hold it to 50/50. A blue wave big enough to retake the House is quite possible, if not probable. A blue wave to retake the Senate will have to be a tidal wave after today’s news.