BISMARCK, N.D. — The day after his election to the U.S. Senate, Republican Kevin Cramer assured North Dakota farmers that he has President Donald Trump's ear on trade and that Trump will get them a good - and maybe even a great - deal.
"This is a priority for me," Cramer told The Associated Press Wednesday. "President Trump has told me, 'If you want me to push this through fast I will get a good deal for farmers but if you give me some time I will get a great deal.'"
Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp cast herself as a champion of farmers in her unsuccessful re-election bid and made trade and tariffs a centerpiece of her campaign. She argued the only long-term solution was for the Trump administration to "give up this misguided trade war."
Cramer said China continues to act in bad faith, forcing "these extraordinary measures."
Trump personally persuaded Cramer to run against Heitkamp. Cramer said he has brought up the issue of trade several times with Trump, hoping for "favorable negotiations."
Trump's administration in July carried out its threat to impose 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese products, alleging that Beijing steals or pressures U.S. companies to hand over technology. China responded with similar duties on the same amount of U.S. imports - including soybeans and pork.
For Joe Ericson, who is among about 10,000 soybean farmers in the state, it's a waiting game. China is the No. 1 export market for North Dakota soybeans.
"Right now, it looks like we'll have to be patient and wait it out," said Ericson, who farms near Wimbledon and is president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association.
Ericson voted for Cramer, hoping he "has the President's ear" to push him to expedite an end to the trade dispute. Ericson estimated that half of the state's soybean crop will have to be put in storage until markets rebound - if they ever do.
Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, which has more than 45,000 members in the state, said it may be too late to recapture markets.
"Because of this trade war, we've become an unreliable trade partner," Watne said. "(China) may come back and buy some from us but it likely would be less. We have expedited their decision to produce their own supplies."
Watne said about 7 million acres of soybeans are planted annually in North Dakota, and farmers must hold Cramer's "feet to the fire" on the trade issue.
"We may get a little more voice with Cramer, but we may not get the urgency," Watne said.