Is Heitkamp eyeing a run for governor?
© Greg Nash

Rumors are swirling in North Dakota that Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampJustice Dept investigating Equifax stock sales: report Dem senator: Trump 'very serious' about infrastructure Trump steps up courtship of Dems MORE (D) might run for governor in 2016.

“Both sides of the aisle have been talking about this possibility for some time,” said Chad Oban, the executive director of the Democratic Party in North Dakota. “I have no idea if she’s considering it, or if it’s just the state rumor mill.” 

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“That’s definitely the talk,” added state Rep. Roscoe Streyle, a Republican.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) will be up for reelection in 2016 but hasn’t indicated yet whether he intends to run again.

Heitkamp was elected in 2012, so her first term in Congress doesn't end until 2018. She wouldn’t have to retire from the Senate to run for governor in the state, so if she ran and lost, she could maintain her Senate seat. 

In an email to The Hill, her spokeswoman Abigail McDonough said that Heitkamp right now is “focused on her work to fight for North Dakotans in the U.S. Senate.”

But the rumors have picked up enough steam that Streyle, the GOP lawmaker, has written legislation he plans to introduce next year that would change how vacated U.S. Senate seats are filled in North Dakota.

As it now stands, the governor appoints an interim senator, so if Heitkamp were to win the governor’s mansion, she could fill her Senate seat with a Democrat. Streyle’s bill would change the law to require a special election in the red state.

“If she happened to win [the governor’s race], she could appoint her replacement, and that’s totally wrong,” Streyle said. “That person would have two years in Washington and would go into the next election as an incumbent. Why are we allowing that?” 

Democrats say his bill is hypocritical because it only addresses federal seats, while at the state level, Republicans have super-majority and continue to fill spots through appointments.

Streyle and Oban both made clear that they’re not familiar with Heitkamp’s thinking, and they were only relating what is frequently speculated on in North Dakota political circles.

“The rumor has been around for some time, and again, I have no idea if she’s even considering it,” Oban said. “But the fact that [Republicans] are putting that bill together shows that they’re nervous that if she runs, she’ll win.”

Heitkamp ran for governor in 2000 but lost to John Hoeven (R), who spent 10 years in the governor’s mansion and is now her colleague in the Senate. Hoeven is up for reelection in 2016, and his representative told The Hill he intends to run for reelection. 

Hoeven's latest Federal Election Commission filing showed he has nearly $1 million in his campaign account. He jumped into the Senate race less than 11 months before Election Day in 2010 and was able to raise more than $3.5 million as he cruised to victory. 

Oban said Democrats don’t presently have a front-runner to challenge Hoeven but said he’s confident a few names will come to the forefront later this year.

If Heitkamp were to leave the Senate early, and she was unable to appoint a successor, it would leave Democrats with a big hole to fill in a year, when they hope to reclaim the majority.

Heitkamp won her 2012 election by fewer than 3,000 votes, and Republicans have an ironclad majority at the state level.

Still, Democrats have had some success in the state in the Senate. Hoeven was the first Republican from North Dakota elected to the upper chamber since the late 1980s.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story contained inaccurate information about the amount of money Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) has in his campaign account. He has more than $900,000, according to his latest Federal Election Commission filing.