Republican challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer has won the closely watched North Dakota Senate race.
Cramer, a three-term member of Congress, was personally recruited by President Donald Trump to take on vulnerable Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp in the heavily red state. His triumph will likely help the party hang on to its advantage in the upper chamber.
North Dakota was seen as one of the most competitive Senate races this cycle, given the state’s strong conservative lean and backing for Trump in 2016 (voters chose him by a 36-point margin in 2016). Heitkamp had established herself as an independent voice who hasn’t shied away from voting alongside the president while still opposing him on policy areas like health care.
Cramer, meanwhile, leaned firmly into his conservative bona fides throughout the race and touted his willingness to back hardline immigration policies including the travel ban and a border wall. “They’re really pleased with Donald Trump, they’re pleased with Republican leadership, and I get to take credit for my part in all of that,” Cramer has said.
The election has been a close and emotional one.
A strict new state voter ID law requiring voters to have identification with their residential address disproportionately affected the state’s Native American voters and pushed tribal leaders to frantically print new identification and rally get-out-the-vote efforts in the final days before the election.
In the months leading up to the election, Cramer made a series of gaffes while discussing the #MeToo movement and seemed to suggest that women speaking out about experiences with sexual assault was a sign of weakness.
“They cannot understand this movement toward victimization,” Cramer told the New York Times, speaking of his wife, daughters, mother, and mother-in-law. “They are pioneers of the prairie. These are tough people whose grandparents were tough and great-grandparents were tough.” Heitkamp, in response, offered a moving description of her mother’s own experience with sexual assault.
Cramer has also struggled to defend his support for Trump’s trade policies — which include tariffs that affected the output of many North Dakotan farmers.
These factors didn’t appear to hurt Cramer’s final chances, however. Polls had him leading Heitkamp by roughly 11 points going into the election — a gap that proved too big to overcome.