Senate News From
North Dakota & New Jersey

1200px-Seal_of_the_United_States_Senate.svgBy Jim Ellis

Feb. 15, 2018 — The North Dakota US Senate campaign is on the precipice of drastic change. Earlier in the week, at-large US Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck) indicated that he was reconsidering his decision to bypass challenging first-term Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

According to one of the contenders who just dropped out of the race, and who is a close confidant of Rep. Cramer, the congressman has made the decision to enter the Senate race. Former ND Republican Party chairman Gary Emineth told the media that he is ending his fledgling Senate campaign to make way for Rep. Cramer. He further said that the congressman will shortly announce his new plans.

The Republican Senate race had gotten off to a slow start. Rep. Cramer had been keeping the party leaders hanging for the better part of a year, and then announced he wouldn’t run. State Sen. Tom Campbell (R-Grafton) has been running for months, but it is obvious that national and state party officials don’t think he is a strong enough opponent for Sen. Heitkamp. That was one reason Emineth jumped in, but he quickly made a media gaffe, so his credibility was suffering even from the very beginning of his statewide effort.

What made Rep. Cramer change his mind is yet unclear, assuming he has in fact done so. His presence in the race will definitely upgrade the campaign on the challenger chart, but Sen. Heitkamp still must be regarded as at least a slight favorite for re-election.

The senator was elected in 2012 with a scant 50-49 percent margin over at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R-Fargo). Prior to that, she served two terms as state attorney general, ending her service in 2000. Rep. Cramer was likewise first elected to the House in 2012. He has averaged 59.8 percent of the vote over his three at-large congressional campaigns.

New Jersey

Sen. Bob Menendez (D), fresh from putting his legal problems behind him, has now drawn a credible Republican opponent. Retired Celgene pharmaceutical company CEO Bob Hugin announced that he will enter the New Jersey Senate Republican primary. Immediately, he becomes the favorite for the party nomination.

Earlier, when it looked like Sen. Menendez would again have to stand trial over corruption charges, he obviously appeared more politically vulnerable. With a hung jury result in the first trial, the US Justice Department decided to pursue further proceedings. However, when the new judge tossed out eight of the remaining 17 charges, the government folded its case, thus ending further prosecution.

With that, it appears Sen. Menendez has been given new political life, but that’s not stopping Hugin from fostering a challenge. He will have an uphill battle, as the last Republican to win a New Jersey Senate race was veteran incumbent Clifford Case, who left office in 1979 after being denied re-nomination in the 1978 primary campaign.

Hugin is independently wealthy, so he can certainly finance at least the beginning of his campaign effort in what is one of the most expensive states in the country to run a political campaign. Having to cover the electorate through the New York and Philadelphia media markets, when the reality is that the overwhelming number of viewers can’t even vote for a New Jersey candidate, makes electronic advertising a more expensive budget line item than in most places.

Sen. Menendez is certainly the favorite for re-election, but it appears the Republicans now have a viable candidate who can at least provide spirited opposition and hopefully, for them, rally the Republican base. Doing so should help the party with turnout for the down ballot races at the very least, even if Hugin cannot get in range to upset the 13-year incumbent.

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