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As Others See It: Heitkamp's cabinet considerations

North Dakotans should be proud that two of the state’s members of Congress are being considered for Cabinet posts. Midwestern states like to be known for punching above their weight: Iowa, for its outsized influence in presidential campaigns; Minnesota, where innovative governance routinely draws national attention.

And North Dakota, whose politicians bring their North Dakota Nice personas into Washington’s Game of Thrones, then compete at the highest levels and win. We’re not followers of the TV series “House of Cards,” so this plot twist may have been explored before. But if it hasn’t, then in Season 5 in 2017, President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) should lock horns with a new nemesis: a prairie populist from North Dakota.

If the show’s writers get the character right, and weave in enough back-story about the new pol’s formative years in Cando or Cavalier or Beach, Underwood might never know what hit him.

Of course, that’s fantasy. This is reality:

Should North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp become the new secretary of agriculture, if the post is offered by President-elect Trump?

In our view, the answer to that question depends on the answer to this one, which is known to only Heitkamp herself: How would Heitkamp feel about working for Trump?

Donald Trump is a chief executive like no other, one whose management style inspires loyalty in some subordinates and utter loathing in others. Which of those camps does Heitkamp see herself in?

That’s the key, in our view. And it’s the key because once that question is answered, then the other questions’ answers are somewhat easier to predict.

For example, here’s a question that’s making the rounds: If Heitkamp stays in the Senate, will she be re-elected?

Former Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan says yes. “North Dakotans are big ticket splitters,” Dorgan told DTN Progressive Farmer.

“The questions in our state are: ‘Do they know you?’, ‘Do they like you?’ and ‘Do they trust you?’”

North Dakotans “know, like and trust Heidi,” he continued.

Furthermore, former Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, former Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Dorgan himself “spent a combined 74 years winning in a ‘red state.’ In North Dakota, politics is more personal than party,” Dorgan said.

The trouble with this analysis is that neither Dorgan, Conrad nor Pomeroy are in office today, and that’s a huge indication that North Dakota politics has changed. The High Plains are “redder” than ever; even Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., won by a smaller margin than before.

Furthermore, North Dakota no longer depends so heavily on the federal money that the Three Amigos used to funnel in.

Couple that with the prospect of running against popular Rep. Kevin Cramer, and we wouldn’t blame Heitkamp for accepting the Cabinet post. Better to leave the Senate by choice than in defeat, as both Dorgan and Conrad — who retired rather than seek re-election in the new environment — well know.

 
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