Two primaries on Tuesday illustrate why the 'Blue Wave' is far from certain
By Rick Moran
What a difference a few months can make in politics. At the beginning of the year, the GOP's House and Senate majorities looked shaky. Democrats were surging across the board. They had recruited many top-notch candidates. They had money to burn. And Donald Trump and the GOP were in free fall in the polls.
But to the amazement of some Democratic partisans, all of that has changed for the better. Trump's approval numbers are better than Obama's at this point of his presidency. The gap between Democrats and Republicans in the generic polls has narrowed considerably. GOP fundraising has taken off, and the party has recruited several strong candidates to run in open races.
Indeed, the primaries in North Dakota and Nevada on Tuesday illustrate just how far the GOP has come in just a few months.
Few would have given Nevada's incumbent, GOP senator Dean Heller, much of a chance to survive a primary challenge in January. Heller angered many Nevada Republicans by voting against Obamacare repeal and saying some unkind words about the president. But Heller managed to mend fences a bit with Trump, and the White House, along with majority leader McConnell, induced Heller's main GOP primary challenger, Danny Tarkanian, to drop out of the race and run for a House seat. Tarkanian is a perennial candidate who has never won anything and would have had great difficulty in the general election. But Heller's standing with Nevada voters has improved, and Trump has agreed to campaign for him. He appears to have a good chance of holding on to his seat.For months, Nevada and North Dakota were among the biggest headaches facing President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans headed into November's midterm elections.
In Nevada, until March, the GOP had two well-known candidates. In North Dakota, until February, it had none.
But after aggressive intervention from the White House, Trump's political team and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the GOP now has one candidate in each of those races – giving the party nothing to worry about in Tuesday's primaries in two of the most important Senate battlegrounds on the 2018 midterm map.
"This is an example of what it looks like when things work well," said Josh Holmes, a top political adviser to McConnell. "Both of them had opportunity to be big trouble."
In North Dakota, the problem was finding a suitable candidate to run against incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp.
Heller back from the dead and Cramer poised to flip a seat in a state Trump won by 36 points. If both Heller and Cramer are successful, Democratic hopes of taking over the Senate are all but gone.In North Dakota, despite a lobbying effort that included a visit with Trump at the White House, Rep. Kevin Cramer decided in January against a Senate run.
Rather than looking elsewhere for another candidate, though, Trump, McConnell, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner and other top Republicans continued courting Cramer, pressuring him to reconsider his decision.
"Everybody saw him as by far and away the best candidate we could field. So, that was an all-in proposition to try to get him to reconsider," Holmes said.
Oil tycoon and GOP mega-donor Harold Hamm also pressed Cramer to run – and Hamm's nudging, Cramer told WDAY in North Dakota, was a major factor.
"When Harold talked to my wife Chris, he said, 'If Kevin does this, if you guys get into this, I will be his national finance chairman.' That was pretty compelling," Cramer said in the May interview.