FARGO, N.D. (CN) – U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., has decided after months of uncertainty that he will not challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in November.
Cramer announced his plans to instead seek re-election to his House seat during a Thursday morning interview on KFYR radio’s “What’s On Your Mind?”
In the interview, Cramer said several times that family is one of the driving factors in his decision to not make a Senate run.
“The best thing for our family, for me and I think, frankly, for North Dakota is for me to seek re-election to the House of Representatives,” said Cramer. “While It’s still a robust campaign, there’s still lots of work to do.”
President Donald Trump met with Cramer last week to urge him to run against Heitkamp. Although he ultimately chose not to, Cramer had kind words about the president following his decision.
“I want people who don’t know Donald Trump like I’ve gotten to know him to know that while he was very persuasive, he was also very understanding,” Cramer said.
Cramer’s decision leaves North Dakota Republicans in a tight spot as they have no other immediate challenger for Heitkamp outside of conservative farmer Tom Campbell. Despite the lack of options, party leaders have yet to commit to Campbell.
Campbell issued a statement in support of Cramer’s choice and also used it as an opportunity to rally North Dakota conservatives to “focus squarely on defeating Sen. Heitkamp.”
He also struck an optimistic tone about his chances, claiming he looked forward to providing Cramer with a conservative partner in the Senate.
Cramer noted Heitkamp is well liked, but said there is no doubt in his mind Campbell could beat her at the polls.
Controversy dogged Cramer’s shot at a Senate run recently as stories broke claiming he used campaign funds to pay family members hired on as staff.
Radio host Scott Hennen asked Cramer about the issue, prompting Cramer to call the North Dakota Democrats “inept” after it was discovered Democrat Colin Peterson of Minnesota did the same thing by hiring his son and did not meet the same reaction.
“They have some egg on their faces,” said Cramer. “This is what happens when you shoot before you aim.”
Cramer addressed those allegations in more detail on the radio show, acknowledging he hired his wife to manage his campaign. He also told listeners how much he paid his wife, claiming he paid her one-third of market value for the position after she had previously worked for free in order to save campaign funds.
The congressman then praised his wife, saying she not only saved the campaign money, she also did the job better.
After defending the choice to employ his wife, Cramer made a crack at news headlines saying, “Cramer sleeps with his campaign manager.”
The Republicans currently hold a slender majority in the U.S. Senate. Democrats need to flip two seats without losing North Dakota or any of the other nine seats they hold in states Trump carried in 2016.