The maneuvering comes as some influential Republicans now are fearful that Cramer could damage their chances if he commits gaffes like GOP candidate Todd Akin did in 2012 when he cost his party a chance to pickup the Missouri Senate seat.
"On paper, it looks like he could win, but he also appears to have a few Akin-like tendencies that make a lot of people nervous," said one Senate GOP campaign veteran, who, like other top Republicans, asked for anonymity to assess the field candidly.
In an interview, Cramer pushed back, saying Washington Republicans don't understand his state, noting that he has held more than 400 town hall meetings since 2013 and won his statewide race with 69% of the vote last year. He said had Heitkamp's 2012 opponent, Rick Berg, relied on North Dakota consultants rather than Washington experts, "he'd be a United States senator today."
When longtime Democratic Senator Kent Conrad retired back in 2012, Republicans saw it as a strong pickup opportunity, selected then-Congressman Rick Berg to try and snatch it, and he wound up losing to the former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp by less than 3,000 votes. Republicans again are eyeing what they consider a prime target: North Dakota voted for Donald Trump by a margin larger than Hillary Clinton’s total share of the vote, the only state besides West Virginia to break that hard for the President. But concerns raised about the presumed Republican frontrunner, Congressman Kevin Cramer, have left them paranoid and wanting, and looking at former state senator Tom Campbell.
In Cramer’s defense, his familiarity with every corner of the state and constant local presence is a plus and makes him a strong contender, and yes, he won his last election by an overwhelming margin. But the fears of a repeat of 2012, when Missouri State Republicans found themselves incapable of kicking a walking, talking timebomb to the curb, leave Dakota Republicans reviewing every word, every controversy, every possible explosive gaffe that could cost them a seat they think (fairly) should be winnable.
Incumbent Senator Heitkamp is taking the threat of a real challenge seriously: she raised $1.6 million in the first quarter for her 2018 re-election bid, a record for an incumbent North Dakota Senator.