North Dakota Senate hopefuls making final campaign stops

FILE - This combination of file photos shows North Dakota Senate candidates in the November 2018 election from left, incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and her Republican challenger Kevin Cramer. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy, File)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota U.S. Senate candidates Heidi Heitkamp and Kevin Cramer are enlisting some high-profile help from their respective parties, while also planning a flurry of appearances across the state in the last full week of their long, expensive and contentious campaign.

The race between the two has been among the most watched nationally because Republicans are counting on a Cramer victory to help them keep control of the Senate. Heitkamp, who is seeking her second term, is seen as one of the most vulnerable Senators among red-state Democrats.

Cramer on Tuesday night was scheduled to host President Donald Trump’s eldest son at a campaign event in Williston, the biggest city in western North Dakota’s prolific oil-producing region. Donald Trump Jr. will be accompanied by his girlfriend, former Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle, Cramer said.

In the state’s biggest city of Fargo on Thursday, former Vice President Joe Biden will campaign for Heitkamp as she kicks off a five-day statewide tour that has scheduled stops in more than 20 communities, covering up to 2,000 miles ahead of Election Day.

Cramer, a 57-year-old congressman trying to make the jump to the Senate after three terms in the House, said part of his last-minute campaign strategy was to focus on western North Dakota, which he called “largely conservative and often ignored.”

With oil production at record levels and an influx of new residents who weren’t in the state in 2012, Cramer said it’s “ripe” for votes.

Heitkamp, who turned 63 Tuesday, won her seat in 2012 by beating first-term congressman Rick Berg by fewer than 3,000 votes. Heitkamp won in nearly all counties of the eastern third of North Dakota, while Berg claimed victory in most of the counties in the western two-thirds.

State census data show there are almost 580,000 people who are eligible to vote Election Day, up about 36,000 from 2012. Data show that 54 percent of the voting-age population is in the eastern part of the state, which is unchanged from six years ago.

Heitkamp on Tuesday was scheduled to make campaign stops in several eastern North Dakota cities, before returning to cast an early ballot in her home precinct in Mandan, in Morton County.

Her campaign said she was not available for an interview on Tuesday.

Almost 69,000 North Dakota residents, or about a quarter of the total number of people who voted in the last midterm elections in 2014, had already cast ballots by midday Tuesday.

Cramer said he’s keeping the final few days before Election Day open, and will campaign where he thinks it will have the most impact.

President Trump, who won North Dakota by a large margin in 2016, has been to the state twice to campaign for Cramer. With polls showing Cramer leading, North Dakota didn’t appear Monday on a schedule of Trump campaign stops planned for the final week.

“If he’d come, I’d love it,” Cramer said. “But the perception is this race doesn’t need his resources.”

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