Rep. Cramer: US direction, soul at stake in Senate contest

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer told North Dakota Republicans Saturday that “the direction of the nation and the soul of the Senate” is at stake as he seeks to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, whom he sought to portray as too liberal for her home state.

Cramer’s race against Heitkamp is of the toughest Senate races in the U.S. Republicans nationally see the race as perhaps their best chance for a pickup in a closely divided Senate, given Heitkamp’s narrow victory six years ago and North Dakota’s conservative identity.

“There’s much at stake in November, including the balance of power in that great chamber,” Cramer told the more than 1,600 delegates at the GOP’s convention in Grand Forks. “We know what’s coming at us and we know you got our backs.”

He told delegates that he will support President Donald Trump all of the time, unlike Heitkamp, and emphasized her support of President Barack Obama, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Hillary Clinton.

“She is attempting to hide from her voting record by claiming she supports the Trump agenda,” he said of Heitkamp.

Trump carried North Dakota by 36 points in 2016, and Cramer has been a strong supporter. Heitkamp, who has sought to present herself as independent of both Republicans and Democrats, has countered that Cramer would take a partisan approach as senator, which she says would be ineffective at solving problems in Washington.

“Congressman Cramer once again showed that he isn’t an independent voice for North Dakota — he’ll always put partisan politics and his political career ahead of the people he’s elected to serve,” Heitkamp’s campaign said in statement. “North Dakotans deserve an effective leader like Heidi who’ll work across the aisle and do what’s best for our state.”

Cramer told the state’s GOP delegates that just a single vote in the Senate could sway the future of such things as a Supreme Court appointment or “regulatory reform.”

“All of this hangs in the balance because one vote could sway these important issues to a liberal philosophy that favors big government and vast entitlement programs,” said Cramer.

Cramer has been critical of Heitkamp’s vote against Trump’s tax cuts, which she believes is bad policy that will lead to budget cuts and increased debt.

“For far too long, the self-righteous, self-serving left has shackled this nation’s economy with too much taxation and too much regulation,” he said.

Cramer received the unanimous endorsement of the party’s delegates, but the longtime Republican activist hasn’t always been so well-received by the party faithful.

Six years ago, he irked party bosses when he skipped the GOP convention’s traditional candidate selection process and ran instead in the primary for North Dakota’s sole U.S. House seat. Cramer, a former state party director and chairman who was serving on the North Dakota Public Service Commission, defeated the party’s preferred candidate, Brian Kalk, also a member of the regulatory commission. Cramer went on to defeat a Democrat Pam Gulleson.

Cramer has won re-election comfortably every two years since taking the seat and initially planned to run again this year. He said he changed his mind at the urging of others within his party who believe he’s the GOP’s best hope at defeating Heitkamp.

Cramer told The Associated Press ahead of Saturday’s speech that Trump had personally encouraged him three times to run for the seat, including twice after he said he wouldn’t. Cramer said beating Heitkamp won’t be easy and he expects each campaign to spend about $10 million — not including outside money — to win it.

“We are a long way from the election,” Cramer told the AP. “North Dakotans have a role in shaping the agenda for the country — and this enthusiasm and momentum has to be sustained.”



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