Heitkamp Heads to West Virginia for Tennant Campaign

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted April 3, 2014 at 2:58pm

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who pulled off one of the most unlikely upsets of the 2012 cycle, is heading to West Virginia for the next two days to help a fellow Democratic underdog.  

Heitkamp will headline three fundraisers in Morgantown and Charleston on Friday and Saturday for West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat trying to hold one of the party’s most vulnerable open seats. The freshman senator will also join Tennant in meetings with young Democrats and state energy leaders, according to the campaign.  

In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Heitkamp said she sees similarities between her own race against Rep. Rick Berg and Tennant’s uphill bid against GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, starting with the voters in both states wanting to know and see their representatives.  

“It is very personal, it is very retail. That’s really how I won,” Heitkamp said. “I just got out there and met as many people as I could meet. I told them I was for North Dakota, first and foremost, and it’s always the way it’s going to be. I think it’s how I governed or legislated since I’ve been here, and I think that’s a very strong similarity between West Virginia and North Dakota politics.” Heitkamp was a star candidate for Democrats, winning by less than 3,000 votes even as President Barack Obama fell 20 points below Mitt Romney in North Dakota. She was running against a Republican with an unusually high unfavorable rating in a solidly Republican state and a campaign widely criticized in the wake of the 2012 elections.  

Tennant faces Capito, a seven-term congresswoman with a relatively moderate record and well-known name. The retirement of longtime Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller made this a top target for national Republicans. In a state where Obama is deeply unpopular, the race is rated Leans Republican by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.  

Still, Tennant has won two races for secretary of state. She lost a 2011 bid for the gubernatorial nomination, but Democrats are banking on her built-in name recognition and statewide campaign experience to help the party in a state where Democrats still hold a wide edge in voter registration. Heitkamp noted she did not have that help in North Dakota.  

“I know Shelley, I’ve played softball with her, she’s a very good softball player — and she’s a lovely person as well,” Heitkamp said. “It will be a choice that the people of West Virginia will make. I think the person who can make the most compelling case about how they can represent their state in ways that really reflect the values and the interests of your state, that’s the person who is going to win, regardless of party label.”  

Heitkamp said she wasn’t sure where else she’ll campaign during the midterm cycle but made it clear she sees Tennant as someone who would be a legislative ally in the Senate.  

“What I’m going to do is, for the people that I’ve asked to step up and run, I’m going to fulfill my commitment to provide any level of assistance,” Heitkamp said. “There’s people running in states that represent an opportunity to grow the moderate middle. I’m going where people think about issues more broadly and not through an ideological lens.”