The Senate Revolution in North Dakota Will Not Be Televised

Nathan L. Gonzales February 17, 2017 · 1:10 PM EST

Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer’s commitment to radio town halls should keep him connected to his constituents, but it could also help lay the groundwork to challenge a Democratic senator in a top-tier race.

The North Dakota congressman held the most town halls (164) among members of Congress in 2016, and 412 since August 2013, when LegiStorm started tracking them. But as Alex Gangitano explained in Roll Call, Cramer’s methods are a little unconventional because he conducts most of his town halls over the radio.

Taking to the radio makes sense considering the distance from the nation’s capital to the Peace Garden State and the fact that North Dakota has approximately 739,000 residents spread across 70,698 square miles.

I don’t believe in coincidences when it comes to most politicians and campaigns, so I’m sure Cramer’s radio presence has nothing to do with the fact that he is the first name mentioned as a possible challenger to Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp next year, or that her brother, Joel Heitkamp, has been hosting his popular “News & Views” radio program every weekday morning for years.

According to Gangitano’s story, Cramer joins conservative radio host Scott Hennen for an hour on Wednesday mornings on radio station KFYR, which reaches Bismarck, Fargo, Tioga, and Dickinson, and is on station KNOX in Grand Forks, and KHND in Harvey, for a half-hour each on Thursdays. Soon, he’ll be adding a fourth station (WDAY in Fargo) for a half-hour on Wednesdays.

Cramer and Heitkamp aren’t competing for exactly the same audience, considering Joel is a Democrat like his sister, and Joel's reach is larger. But it’s a small enough state that every vote matters. Heidi won her initial Senate race in 2012 by less than 3,000 votes (a margin of less than 1 percentage point).

Joel Heitkamp’s radio show is on every weekday morning on KFGO 790 AM, KEYZ 660 AM, KNDK 1080 AM, KXPO 1340 AM and Supertalk 1270 AM.

Cramer was first elected to the House in the at-large district in 2012, when GOP Rep. Rick Berg vacated the seat to run for the Senate (which he lost to Heitkamp).

Heitkamp was always going to be a Republican target in 2018 due to the GOP-lean of the state in most federal races, but Donald Trump’s 63 percent to 27 percent trouncing of Hillary Clinton last November put the race at or near the top of Democratic problems next year. Our initial rating of the race is Toss-Up. 

Heitkamp isn’t oblivious to the challenge. She made a post-election trek to Trump Tower before Inauguration Day when she was being considered as a possible member of Trump’s Cabinet. Even if she never intended to take a position (nothing was reportedly offered anyway), stories about her openness to meet with Trump can’t hurt her effort to get the crossover votes necessary to win.

Cramer started doing radio as a public service commissioner in North Dakota. When he was doing a show as a candidate for Congress in 2012, he was asked if it could become a regular thing if he got elected.

“I said, ‘Hey, yeah, we could call it like talk-radio town hall.’”

Cramer said he laughs when the host asks him beforehand what they should talk about.

His usual response: “You and I aren’t going to determine what we’re talking about today — the first caller will.”