[JOSH DAWSEY, ANDREW RESTUCCIA and JENNY HOPKINSON | December 10, 2016 |Politico]
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has emerged as President-elect Donald Trump's leading choice for agriculture secretary, sources close to the transition tell POLITICO.
The first-term Democrat from North Dakota and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee has been a vocal advocate for farmers and broke from her party on several controversial policy issues, including the labeling of genetically modified foods and environmental protection for wetlands and waterways.
A special election to replace Heitkamp would almost certainly turn her seat over to a Republican, so the choice would give Trump a chance to appear conciliatory to Democrats, albeit with a lower-profile Cabinet role, while allowing the GOP to bolster its Senate majority.
Heitkamp's office and Trump's transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Heitkamp, who met with the president-elect at Trump Tower on Dec. 2, is facing a tough race in a deep red state in 2018. In a further sign she is a strong contender for a Cabinet post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met with North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer on Tuesday about a potential open Senate seat. A source close to the transition said gaining another Republican Senate seat was on the list of reasons for picking Heitkamp.
It remains unclear whether Heitkamp would accept the job. Democrats are hoping she'll turn it down.
"I don't think she's going anywhere,” former North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, told POLITICO.