Heitkamp scrambles to keep Senate seat
Anti-Kavanaugh vote hurts her in GOP-heavy N.D.
FARGO, N.D. — Heidi Heitkamp squeezed dozens of hands and posed for pictures with college students at North Dakota State University recently, bubbling with characteristic exuberance that belied the Democratic senator’s uncertain future.
“I want everybody to just do something for me,” Heitkamp said, her voice hoarse. “Everybody stand up! I want you to reach as high as you can. Now, I want you to reach about six inches higher. That’s what we’ve got to do to win! We’ve got to go higher.”
An already tenuous bid for a second term has taken on new urgency for Heitkamp since she voted against Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. Heitkamp is scrambling to find her footing amid fears that the race against Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer is slipping away, and with it Democrats’ slim hopes of a Senate majority.
“Are we facing some headwinds? Yep,” Heitkamp said. “But I’ve faced headwinds before, and won.”
Heitkamp has been betting for months that her image as an independent collaborator — someone who could go along with President Donald Trump, but challenge him when needed— could carry her to another term in GOPheavy North Dakota.
Trailing in polls, including her own campaign’s, with barely three weeks until Election Day, Heitkamp plans to essentially camp out in North Dakota, especially its more politically independent eastern side.
She plans to lean harder into the same strategy, relying heavily on the economic hit her heavy agricultural and manufacturing export state has taken under the Trump administration’s escalating trade war with China. She calls it the “darkest cloud on the horizon” for North Dakota.
Casting herself as a champion of farmers and export-reliant businesses and workers, she is using the issue to step up her months-long criticism of Cramer’s unfaltering allegiance to Trump, arguing it comes at a cost to North Dakotans.
Heitkamp also is weighing whether to launch a direct advertising attack on Cramer for often awkward comments on sensitive subjects, especially related to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Cramer downplayed California professor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, saying the episode fell short of a rape and didn’t involve a workplace superior and subordinate.
He later referred to the #MeToo movement as “this movement toward victimization,” and referred to his mother, wife and daughters as “tough people.”
Cramer later said: “That was just a broad statement about our whole culture. Everybody’s got to be a victim now.”
Attacking Cramer over his Kavanaugh comments would be a risky gambit in a state where Heitkamp lost support from independent men turned off by the continuing discussion of the allegations against Kavanaugh, but has signed on hundreds of new campaign volunteers since she voted against him.
“I guess you could say, ‘Are you perpetuating the discussion?’ I don’t know,” Heitkamp said. “When people say things that are hurtful to victims, to people who have suffered incredible victimization, I’m going to call it out and I don’t care what the consequences are.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who is seeking re-election, campaigns along the route of the Uffda Day parade in Rutland, N.D., on Oct. 7. Trailing in polls, Heitkamp plans to essentially camp out in North Dakota.