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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has a close relationship with President Trump. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is one of the more vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this year, but Republicans are the ones worrying about her race, Politico reports.

Battle lines: President Trump recruited her challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, but he invited Heitkamp to a bill signing last week and hasn't attacked her (yet.) Just last night at a rally in Tennessee he said, referring to Heitkamp and other red-state Democratic senators, "Democrats running for office, many of them, are saying great things about me — in fact, I think they're Republicans."

Why it matters: President Trump needs Heitkamp's vote given the GOP's narrow Senate majority, but Republicans are worried that by not attacking her, he could make them lose out on an otherwise winnable seat.

Big picture: Heitkamp is a bit of a unicorn — she's a Democrat who's had more than a dozen meetings with President Trump since the election, ridden on Air Force One with him, and was even considered for a cabinet position. And the North Dakota Democratic Party is using her close relationship to POTUS as a selling point to voters.

  • But she's campaigning in a way that makes sense for a Democratic incumbent in a state President Trump won by 36 points in 2016. Her latest ad touts praise from her GOP colleagues.
  • One theory, Rep. Kevin Cramer suggested, is that POTUS isn't attacking Heitkamp because of her gender: "They may just be concerned that she’s a woman and maybe that has an impact. I just don’t know," he told Politico.
  • Heitkamp's Press Secretary Sean Higgins told Axios: "Heidi is always willing to work with President Trump when it's good for North Dakota," adding that voters "deserve and expect an independent voice in their senator – not somebody who's just going to toe the party line."

Bottom line: They might have a good working relationship now, but it's likely President Trump will campaign for Cramer in North Dakota in the coming months.

Go deeper

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

9 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.