BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said Thursday he won't run for the U.S. Senate, depriving Republicans of the candidate many saw as the party's best chance to unseat vulnerable Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
Cramer passed up the race despite a personal appeal from President Donald Trump, citing family considerations and his current House seniority.
"I don't want to be away every weekend, around the country and raising money when I have a 10-year-old at home and four grandchildren," Cramer said.
"That, combined with the fact Energy and Commerce continues to see retirements, I continue to move up in that dais, and we have a farm bill this year that's going to require a lot of attention, and North Dakota doesn't have another member of the House. So, I think for the sake of my constituents and my family, it was the way to go."
Cramer has said he and his wife, Kris, met privately with Trump last week in the Oval Office.
"The President made a very patriotic case for me to run for the Senate seat, and told me he would be behind me 100 percent and campaign for me and with me," Cramer said.
Trump carried North Dakota by 36 points in 2016 and remains popular, and Cramer has been a strong supporter.
His decision leaves state Sen. Tom Campbell as the only declared Republican in the race. Campbell, a potato farmer in his second term in the Legislature, is not well known statewide. He has spent about $425,000 of his own money on TV ads to raise his profile since August.
It's not clear if he will attract the same outside money that Cramer would have. Heitkamp has already raised about $6 million.
Heitkamp won the seat in 2012 by a mere 3,000 votes. Her perceived political independence and personal charm has made her personally popular, but the race was still seen as a good pickup chance for Republicans — if Cramer ran.
"There will be some people who are disappointed," state Sen. Kelly Armstrong, who heads North Dakota's GOP party, said.
"We still have a strong chance of winning this election," he said. "Kevin has universal name recognition and he's very popular but Tom Campbell has been out there running for the last six months."
Cramer, 56, is a former state Republican director and party chairman. He ran twice for the U.S. House in the 1990s, losing to incumbent Democrat Earl Pomeroy in 1996 and 1998, before winning it in 2012.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report from Washington.