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Open Governor's Race Could Lure Heidi Heitkamp Home to North Dakota

Heidi Heitkamp is considering a second run for governor next year in North Dakota. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The announcement Monday by North Dakota's popular Republican governor, Jack Dalrymple, that he will not seek re-election in 2016  might be enough to lure one of the state's senators home from Washington.  

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., had begun to mull the possibility of a second run for the job well before Dalrymple's announcement, and the possibility of her candidacy was talked up by leaders at the Democratic Governors Association in February.  

A spokeswoman for Heitkamp, the 59-year-old freshman senator who won her seat in 2012 by fewer than 3,000 votes, was non-committal when asked how Dalrymple's exit might impact her thinking.  

"Senator Heitkamp is focused on her work to fight for North Dakotans in the U.S. Senate," said Abigail McDonough, Heitkamp's communications director. "She hasn't made a decision."  

In her own statement, Heitkamp stuck to niceties for the man she was considering a run to replace – praising his more than three decades in elected politics in the state.  

"Governor Dalrymple has made the state and its people his priority. He has been someone who will listen to all sides of a debate and work with those who disagree with him," she said.  

Even for Heitkamp, a Democrat who has managed to repeatedly come out on top in this red state, a gubernatorial campaign would be uphill. North Dakotans have not elected a Democrat governor since 1988, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won with 58 percent of the vote in 2012.  

Still, she could receive support from the Democratic establishment. Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana and vice chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said of her earlier this year , “Heidi is a rock star and we'd love to see her run.”

According to a Republican familiar with North Dakota politics, two Sioux State Republicans – Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem – are considering campaigns for governor, but are privately working on a deal by which only one of them would run.

Related: Democrats Have a Plan to Overcome Obama in Red States Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.