MANDAN, N.D. — Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s daunting political challenge just got that much harder.
A North Dakota Democrat seeking re-election in a fiercely Republican state, she is running as a centrist, of course. She is even running as a sometimes partner to President Donald Trump. But the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice who could shift the court’s philosophy for decades adds intense pressure on centrists like Heitkamp from both sides.
Will the everywoman persona that makes her popular at home be enough to fight off attacks from the right if she does not side with the president on his pick for the top court? Or will she lose support from within her party if she does?
Of the Democrats running for re-election to the Senate from states that Trump carried, Heitkamp’s challenge is one of the steepest. Trump won North Dakota by 36 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton, a margin the Republican exceeded only in West Virginia.
To this challenge, Heitkamp is bringing not just a policy acumen compiled over four decades in public life, politics and business, but a no-nonsense public personality that is part “your mom’s best friend,” part “your seventh-grader’s math teacher” and part actress Frances McDormand’s portrayal of Marge Gunderson in the film “Fargo.”
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With little trace of affect, Heitkakmp subtly commands a room, even if wearing a faded barn coat, hiking shoes and a nest of unruly red hair, as she did walking into Red Trail Energy’s Richardton ethanol plant in June. “No one ever accused me of being a girly girl,” she quipped to The Associated Press later.
The lines on her face tell a story of 62 years of bracing northern winters, high-profile political wins and crushing losses — never mind a battle with breast cancer 18 years ago.
When she locks eyes in conversation, those lines quickly appear when she lets loose her hard laugh, as she did at the counter of a suburban Bismarck coffee shop, and disappear just as fast, as when her detailed explanation of trade policy silenced a room full of grain farmers.
“She’s good about …read more