While most of Wednesday's events revolved around her stated passion for children's issues, especially those who have experienced trauma, the escalating trade war over tariffs back in Washington kept creeping into conversations.
It's an issue important to North Dakotans, which are overwhelmingly white, rural voters — just the type that the Democratic Party has been struggling to attract.
Despite Trump’s popularity in the state, one of the highest in the country according to Gallup, Trump's actions could be making her chances for re-election a bit more rosy.
At the Hillsboro Cafe, a farmer walked up to her to say hello and the conversation quickly shifted to tariffs, something the farmer said is “a big deal,” calling it a “double whammy” for his business.
The escalation of a trade war would hit farmers especially hard because Trump’s tariffs on steel imports could raise the price of equipment. Simultaneously, China’s retaliatory tactic — a tariff on more than 100 exports, including soybeans — could crush North Dakota farmers if they lose a major buyer in China. The state’s farmers export $1.5 billion worth of soybeans to Asia.
“We’re going to fight the fight,” against such measures she told the farmer, although Congress has little authority in trade matters.
Mike McFeely, who hosts the local talk radio show at WDAY in Fargo, told Heitkamp during a commercial break that the longer the tariff fight goes on, the better it could be for her re-election chances, although there hasn't been any recent polling on the state of the race.
Heitkamp, who adamantly opposes the tariffs, didn’t directly address the premise whether the issue would help her in November but she did launch into her broader campaign theme — that she serves as a check against the president. “We don’t need a Trump apologist,” Heitkamp said, referring to Cramer, her Republican opponent.
Cramer, who reluctantly jumped in the race to challenge Heitkamp after repeated calls from the president, told NBC News that he and Heitkamp have similar positions on the tariffs and he is against them in general. But as an ally to the president who ran on the issue, Cramer said he thinks this is all part of the negotiations. He echoed a similar thread line from some of Trump’s advisers who say that it might be temporarily painful.
“North Dakotans are sophisticated people and with a soybean tariff, it’s gonna be short-term pain, but that doesn’t change the long term goal.”