Top Trump House ally Rep. Kevin Cramer tells friends he will challenge Heitkamp

by Jonathan Allen /  / Updated 
Image: President Donald Trump, seated next to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.
President Donald Trump, seated next to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., speaks during a meeting with Senators on his Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.Evan Vucci / AP file

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Kevin Cramer has signaled to confidants that he will reverse course and run against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in what promises to be one of the nation's most hotly contested Senate elections, two GOP sources familiar with his plans told NBC News.

Cramer, the state's lone House member and a close ally of President Donald Trump, has long been considered the blue-chip recruit for Republican. He announced in January that he wouldn't challenge Heitkamp, but White House officials, party leaders and Cramer's home-state supporters continued to pressure him to jump in.

One of the other two candidates in the race, Gary Emineth, a former Cramer campaign manager, dropped out on Tuesday, telling the Associated Press he believes Cramer will run. Some Republicans want the other candidate, Tom Campbell, to run for Cramer's House seat.

If Cramer gets in, it will be a coup for Senate Republicans. With a 51-49 majority in the Senate — and facing historical headwinds in the midterm elections — they were nervous about the prospects of sending anyone else into battle, even in a state where Trump won with 63 percent of the vote in 2016.

"He's the Republicans' best choice to defeat Heitkamp," said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor, who said he hopes Cramer will run.

Still, Republicans caution that they've seen Cramer edge close to the dance floor without busting a move before.

CORRECTION (Feb. 13, 2018, 5:16 p.m. ET): A earlier version of this article misstated the first name of a person who has decided not to challenge Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. His name is Gary Emineth, not Tom. In addition, Emineth was incorrectly identified as a state senator.

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