With 68 percent of precincts reporting, Cramer led Heitkamp 58 percent to 42 percent when The Associated Press called the race.
Heitkamp’s path to victory was difficult from the start in the increasingly Republican state, which backed President Donald Trump by 36 points in 2016. She had defied political gravity before, narrowly winning her first Senate race six years ago. But the environment was even more problematic this cycle as the state has moved further to the right and she was facing a Republican who was also well-liked in the state.
Cramer, who represents the entire state as its at-large House member, had initially decided not to challenge Heitkamp, citing the impact a heated race would have on his family. But at the urging of Trump and North Dakotans, he reversed course.
The race was a test of party loyalty and personality. Cramer closely tied himself to Trump, who visited the state to motivate Republican voters. He touted the GOP tax overhaul and attempted to paint Heitkamp as out of touch with North Dakota’s conservative electorate.
Heitkamp, in turn, stressed her independent brand, highlighting that she was willing to work with Trump, but would also oppose him when his policies hurt North Dakota. The president’s trade war was a prime example, which Heitkamp highlighted to portray Cramer as someone who wouldn’t break with Trump, even if his policies thrust North Dakota farmers into uncertainty.
Heitkamp, like other Democrats across the country, made health care a central part of her message. Cramer supported the GOP effort to repeal much of the 2010 health care law, while Heitkamp opposed similar legislation in the Senate.
But Heitkamp’s defeat could also be chalked up to her decision to oppose Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, whose confirmation process was rocked by accusations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were in high school. Although Heitkamp voted for Trump’s first high court nominee, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, she opposed Kavanaugh after the allegations came to light. She raised millions after her vote, but it was not enough to overcome the Republican lean of the state.
Watch: ‘North Dakota Nice’ Takes a Backseat in Senate Race