McConnell huddles with GOP rep to discuss possible ND Senate opening

McConnell huddles with GOP rep to discuss possible ND Senate opening
© Victoria Sarno Jordan
The Tuesday meeting at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters near the Capitol touched on various scenarios that could play out in the coming days and weeks involving the North Dakota Senate seat now occupied by Democrat Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampNorth Dakota rep: Trump wants me to run for Senate No room for amnesty in our government spending bill Trump bank nominee gets rough reception at confirmation hearing MORE.
President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE is considering Heitkamp for either Agriculture or Energy secretary. The two met at Trump Tower a week ago, and Heitkamp has had follow-up calls with some of Trump’s top aides.
McConnell and other GOP leaders are eager to expand their narrow three-seat advantage in the Senate. Having Trump tap two red-state Democrats — Heitkamp and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDems mull big changes after Brazile bombshell A bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Collins, Manchin to serve as No Labels co-chairs MORE (D-W.Va.) — for key Cabinet posts would be one way to quickly achieve that goal.
Manchin, who is threatening to shut down the government Friday over what he sees as inadequate health benefits for coal miners, is set to meet with Trump early next week, likely to discuss the Energy secretary post.
The GOP will hold 52 seats if Republican John Kennedy defeats Democrat Foster Campbell in Louisiana’s Senate runoff on Saturday. 
If Heitkamp gets the nod, a special election would need to be held in North Dakota within 95 days. Cramer, an early Trump supporter who also is being considered for the top Energy job, would be the favorite to win the Senate seat. 
As the at-large congressman for North Dakota, Cramer already has had the luxury of running for statewide office so voters there are familiar with him; he just won his third House term last month.
If Heitkamp isn’t asked to join the Trump Cabinet, it’s likely Cramer would challenge her in 2018, he has told friends and colleagues. Heitkamp's shown an independent streak and is popular in North Dakota, but she'd face a difficult race: Trump crushed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE (D) in the state, 64 to 28 percent.
The McConnell-Gardner-Cramer meeting is more evidence that the politically savvy majority leader is taking an active role in trying to orchestrate the departure of red-state Democratic senators early in the 115th Congress. 
Having a slightly larger GOP majority would make it that much easier for Trump and McConnell to pass key priorities like repealing and replacing ObamaCare and tax reform. 
“There’s some collaboration” between McConnell and the presidential transition team, said one GOP source familiar with the Tuesday meeting. “His message was 52 is a good number, but 53 or 54 is a lot better number. And the sooner the better.
“He is a very shrewd son of a bitch.”