I was joined this morning by Congressman Kevin Cramer, likely to be the next senator from North Dakota:
HH: So pleased to welcome Kevin Cramer. Congressman, good to have you on this morning.
KC: Hugh, it’s a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for the opportunity.
HH: I’m telling everyone you are our best chance to pick up a state in the United States Senate next year. We’ve got a number of good races, but up in North Dakota, the numbers are very favorable to you. In fact, I read one poll today that barely 35% think that your opponent, Senator Heitkamp, deserves reelection.
KC: Well, and we’ve seen similar polls over the last couple of years, which is always so surprising to people, and it’s surprising, I think, even to some North Dakotans in the sense that Senator Heitkamp, like most public officials in North Dakota, is a well-liked personality. We all know each other. You know, there’s going to be a grand total of about 280,000 votes cast in this election. So we get to know our constituents pretty well. But you know, just because we like someone doesn’t necessarily mean we think they ought to be our United States Senator. And so it’s, you know, it seems peculiar to some, but we’ve always known her reelect numbers were quite low, and that always presents an opportunity.
HH: You know, I had the opportunity to have lunch with John Hoeven in California a few years ago, then your governor and now your colleague and soon to be your seatmate in the Senate. And he told me there were more cows than voters in North Dakota. And so 280,000, that really means you’ve got to get out and meet every single person, correct?
KC: Well, that’s exactly what it means, Hugh, and that’s why being a member of the People’s House in North Dakota has been such an advantage for me. You know, Senator Heitkamp and I were elected on the very same day in 2012, another indication of the fierce independence of the North Dakota voter, willing to cross over. And so we came in to the same Congress on the same day, elected by the very same people, because I am at large. I am the only member of the House. And the difference being since that time, I’ve run for reelection successfully twice, while she’s been being a senator, doing that thing they call deliberation. I call it nothing. But doing that thing that’s very distant from home where I’ve been doing talk radio. I do 300 talk radio shows every term.
HH: Oh, my gosh.
KC: Yeah, I do it every term. I do four every week as a matter of regular order, and then take whatever else I can get, because to me, the People’s House is, this is why it was such a difficult decision for me, Hugh, to run for the Senate. I love the People’s House, and the one thing I love about the People’s House is the people and the connectivity and the connection that the founders built into the institution with our two year terms and the small population base. It just so happens in my case it’s the same as the Senator’s.
HH: Now Kevin Cramer, obviously you’ve got to raise money, though, nationally. There aren’t enough people for either side to run a campaign in North Dakota, right? So how are you, how’s the fundraising going, because you’re going to have to carry your message via social media, via television, via radio, all over a very large state?
KC: It is. So it’s a big area, but with few people with a lot of distance between us, obviously. And she’s been stockpiling cash for five years while I’ve been running for reelection, and so I do have some catch up to do on the cash on hand side. At the same time, Hugh, you know, she was way behind her opponent when she won in terms of money raised, and she ended up winning. And I think a lot of that is, again, testimony to the, sort of both the independence and the intimacy with which we relate to our voters. So it’s gone well. I did raise in the first five, or the last five weeks of the last quarter, which was the only five weeks I was a candidate, we raised, you know, over a million dollars, 60% of it from North Dakota. But I’ve been on the circuit and been on the phone, and doing the things you do to try to raise money quickly, and it’s gone very well. I don’t know that we’ll ever catch up to her in cash on hand, but let me put it this way. Both of us will have more than enough money to win, and one of us won’t.
HH: www.kevincramer.org. I want you to be part of getting Kevin Cramer fully funded so that this is a fair and square race, because I think North Dakota is a very deep red state, and they want to keep the Senate red. One of the reasons I’m attracted to you, Congressman, and everyone knows Scott Pruitt is my friend. My son works at EPA. I watched those hearings last week. I watched for people to actually step up and defend the Administrator and his record at EPA. You were the guy who did it without fear or favor, with no apologies. You like what’s happening at EPA.
KC: Well, if you’re a North Dakotan, I don’t know how you can do anything but like what’s happening at EPA. You might recall that the Waters of the U.S. rule as an example was one that was, well, it’s devastating to North Dakota should it be implemented the way that the Obama administration tried to, and same with the Clean Power Plan. North Dakota is a coal state. You know, we have an 800 year supply of lignite coal under the ground. We produce it. We burn it right at the mine mouth, generate electricity and transmit it to people throughout the Midwest. It’s important in so many ways. But in addition to that in our oil and gas industry, the EPA has targeted it. In fact, this was an area where Senator Heitkamp and I are on the absolute opposite side of each other from a policy standpoint, and that is she cast the deciding vote to kill the Congressional Review Act that would have repealed a flaring, BLM flaring rule that was designed just for North Dakota. And Scott Pruitt, speaking of, you know, without fear, this guy has implemented the President’s agenda, his regulatory rollback agenda, to a T without fear. And he’s done it with great precision and understanding the law very well. In fact, I don’t, I’ve never met a cabinet secretary that understands the details of what their agency does better than Scott Pruitt does. And so yeah, in North Dakota, if you’re a landowner, farmer or in the energy industry, which covers a lot of people, you’ve got to like the results coming out of the EPA.
HH: Well, I think it’s triggered, though, these papercut newspapers stories. There’s one a day about this or that, and they’re all papercuts, and a lot of them are not true. But they’re trying to take him out of his job. Do you sense the President is standing by him and the Congress is standing by Scott Pruitt as he’s assailed by what is basically the environmental left machinery?
KC: I think it’s really important, Hugh, for people like me who come from places like North Dakota, particularly if we have a little bit of an extra stage to stand on, and I do right now, and I have a relationship with the President. I was an early endorser of Donald Trump’s, and stand by him as well. It’s important for us to let the President to know in whatever form we can that we have Scott Pruitt’s back, and that hopefully emboldens him to have Scott Pruitt’s back, because I get the sense that not everybody around the President feels the same way as I do. And you know how it is in Washington. It doesn’t matter whether it’s papercuts or whether, you know, it’s an explosive dossier of some sort. Once you’re targeted, they’re going to use everything they can either individually or in this case cumulatively to try and build a case that becomes intolerable, politically. And that’s why, you know, every now and again, somebody has to step up and say wait a minute, here are some facts to counter this, you know, this drama that unfolds. And I think there’s some of the things with Scott Pruitt that are so minor as to be completely insignificant. And on their own, they would be, if they’re even true. As you point out, some of it’s not even accurate. But it’s, there’s no question he’s up against it, and I think people need to, he needs to know and the President needs to know there are people on the other side that disagree.
HH: And Republicans in the caucus need to know abandoning Scott Pruitt because it’s inconvenient because of these things will hurt us in states like North Dakota and other places, because it will be read as a surrender to the environmental left. Let me talk a little bit about the environmental left with you, because they’re going to come after you, Kevin Cramer, right?
KC: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
HH: This is what, they want that seat. That seat is, every judge in America depends upon that seat turning red. I don’t think that’s an overstatement. I had the Leader on for 20 minutes yesterday talking about judges, and if the Republicans, if you win, we will continue to confirm Supreme Court justices and Appeals Court justices and district court justices. And if you lose, it is highly likely that we won’t.
KC: Well, there’s no question that perhaps the most important theme of my campaign in North Dakota and around the country is one vote matters. And with a razor thin margin like we have in the Senate, that one vote means a whole lot. We’ve seen it play out both when we’ve won things by one vote like Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and lost things by one vote like the BLM flaring rule or repeal and replacement of Obamacare. That one vote matters, and North Dakota, for pro-business, pro-growth, and you know, Republicans around the country, this is a bargain in terms of an investment into the United States Senate. So it’s, but here’s the nice thing about it, Hugh. There’s a famous North Dakota native newsman named Eric Sevareid back in the 60s and 70s.
HH: Oh, really? I didn’t know he was from North Dakota.
KC: Yeah, he was. He’s from Velva, North Dakota. He once called North Dakota the rectangular blank spot of the nation’s consciousness. Well, on a day like today and a moment like we’re living in now, this Senate seat has sort of made North Dakota the rectangular stage under the nation’s spotlight. And I’m trying to shine a bright light on that spotlight. And North Dakotans like it, Hugh. They like the fact that when they look at all these smart people from around the country, and on the left and East Coast, and they see that lack of common sense, and they know the ravages of the Waters of the U.S. rule, or the Clean Power Plan, or BLM flaring rule and a whole host of other anti-private property rights regulations that are bad for business, they see that they have a stake in that as a personal level, which makes the politics very local. But I think they like seeing it played out nationally as well and seeing that hey, North Dakota’s, you know, North Dakota’s culture is playing a major role in shaping national policy in this country.
HH: Now in terms of running. I don’t know the state very well. How do you run a campaign there? You obviously to go to Bismarck, and by the way, I understand you are buddies with Carson Wentz, who should be a Cleveland Browns. I understand Carson Wentz stayed in your basement. Am I correct about this?
KC: Well, he’s, well, he played in our basement when he was a young kid. Sure, he and my daughter were classmates at Sentry High School. And I don’t know that, you know, Carson, Carson is a superstar NFL quarterback. We sometimes, you know, cringe a little bit, because he’s not a Minnesota Viking, just like you did that he’s not a Cleveland Brown.
HH: Yeah, but we had his ticket.
KC: But we probably should have had him. You had him.
HH: We had his ticket.
KC: You did. You did. Well, there are a lot of Eagles fans in North Dakota, in Bismarck in particular, who love Carson Wentz. And of course, as you know, the world gets to see what a great guy Carson Wentz is now.
HH: Well, tell us a little bit about how you campaign in North Dakota? You start in Bismarck, and then how many cities do you have to set up shop in?
KC: Yeah, it’s a great question, because you know, with such a small electorate but a large, you know, land mass, the intimacy gets difficult. I do, you know, as I’ve said, I do my job. That’s the main way I campaign is keep doing my job as well as I can. And, but the state itself is fairly evenly distributed. It used to be pretty east centric where Fargo, Grand Forks, you know, all the population was over there. But because of the Bakken and the oil industry in the west, places like Bismarck and Minot have grown. Williston and Dickinson have grown. So you know, it’s basically a hundred miles from city to city to city, and you cover them all in your vehicles, and then, of course, over the airwaves. But you also set up shop, as you put it, in many of these communities. We’re in the process of doing an intense voter identification process. We would like to get to know those 280,000 people really, really well, as you can imagine. But Hugh, there’s probably, you know, 230,000 already have their minds made up. Senator Heitkamp and I both have 100% name ID, fairly high favorable to unfavorable, although mine’s better than hers. And now, you know, it comes down to those last 50,000, in many cases. So we’re going to spend a lot of money on very few people trying to better understand what matter to them and respond appropriately to what matters to them.
HH: You know what I like about this is two well-spoken people arguing about issues across a vast state that matters a lot. It’s not going to be a negative campaign. It’s going to be about which direction do you want this country to go in. And I think North Dakota is Trump country, am I right?
KC: Oh, it is. You know, he got 63% of the vote in North Dakota, 36 point margin on Hillary Clinton. That’s a good place to start with a distinction between Senator Heitkamp and me. She thought Hillary Clinton would be, to quote her, one of the best presidents ever in the history of the country. And I supported Donald Trump early. And, but you raise an important point. Senator Heitkamp and I, as I said, were elected on the same day by the same people. That means that we have, you know, the opportunity to vote on many of the same issues. And there’s a long list of them, starting with the Iran nuclear deal going all the way to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and repeal and replacement of Obamacare, and recently, sanctuary cities. I voted to defund sanctuary cities to put some discipline and parameters around that. She’s enthusiastically supported sanctuary cities. And of course, she voted against repealing the pain-capable abortion bill that we passed in the House of Representative, and celebrated wildly on the Senate floor with Chuck Schumer when they did so. And these are pretty, these are pretty basic, fundamental policy differences that her and I have that are reflected not just in our rhetoric or our campaign ads, but now in actual votes. And so I think you’re right. It takes some of that negativity and some of that harshness of the traditional campaigns out of the picture, because people get to size us up, two voting records, one beside the other. And they can make the decision based on the recent history of the two of our services.
HH: Congressman Kevin Cramer, come back early and often throughout the year. Good luck in this campaign ahead, www.kevincramer.org. And thanks for standing with Pruitt, the EPA and the quest for regulatory sanity.
KC: Thank you very much, Hugh. I look forward to many more conversations.
HH: Terrific. 300 times a year. Wow.
End of interview.