Koch Organization Declines to Endorse Republican Candidate in Key Senate Race

Heidi Heitkamp caught a lucky break.

The incumbent Democrat running for re-election in the solidly Republican state of North Dakota has been considered a top pickup opportunity for Senate Republicans in a state Donald Trump won by 36 points in 2016.

With all these underlying dynamics working against Heitkamp, her challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer, the state’s at-large member of the House of Representatives, failed to secure the endorsement of Americans for Prosperity, the political and policy arm of the conservative Koch network which has been a major player in Republican politics for more than a decade.

According to CNN’s Rebecca Berg, reporting from the Koch network’s meeting in Colorado Springs:

Top officials at Americans For Prosperity, the political and policy arm of the Koch network, said the group is not currently supporting Cramer because he is not leading on central policy priorities for the Koch network.

“If this were 2016, we likely would have gone ahead and endorsed” Cramer, said AFP President Tim Phillips. “But we’re raising the bar.”

The move to withhold support for Cramer comes as part of a wider rethinking of the network’s support for Republican candidates. Charles Koch expressed regret for his namesake network’s support for past candidates that didn’t necessarily adhere to the conservative and libertarian principles he espouses.  The Koch network is also not happy about the administration’s trade wars and the divisiveness of the White House.  Because of this, the network is openly considering working with and supporting Democrats.  The network launched a digital ad campaign earlier this year praising Heitkamp’s support for rolling back bank regulations.

President Trump responded to the latest developments via Twitter:

As NBC’s Carrie Dann pointed out on the Meet the Press: The Lid podcast earlier this week, this does not automatically mean they are going to start bankrolling Democrats, nor will Democrats start embracing them.  For all the Kochs’ past disagreements with Donald Trump and the Republican Party, they are presumably happy about the Trump administration’s tax cuts and judicial nominees, something which no Democrat would ever tout. However, the fact that they are willing to sit out a key race that could potentially determine control of an evenly divided Senate is good news for Heitkamp.

The most recent poll of the race from last June gave Cramer a four-point lead over Heitkamp, within the poll’s margin of error. Most observers consider the race a toss-up.