As Native American Voters Abandon Her, Democrat Heitkamp Touts Comparison to a Caustic Chemical


“I take ‘battery acid’ as a compliment,” Senator Heidi Heitkamp says in her latest campaign ad.

It’s supposed to be a positive ad – yet another stab at stopping the bleeding in the incumbent’s approval numbers – but I think it’s a little too cute.

Thematically I think it’s supposed to play like that now famous softball ad Heitkamp ran in the 2012 cycle (the NDGOP parodied it earlier this year), but I’m not sure it hits the mark in terms of symbolism.

Heitkamp works very hard to cultivate a public image of herself as this middle-of-the-road moderate, but behind the curtain she’s probably one of the most ruthless politicians North Dakota has ever produced (I can attest to that having been attacked in a very personal way by the Heitkamp machine). An ad in which she embraces a favorable comparison to a caustic chemical is a bit too on-the-nose I think.

Meanwhile, as Heitkamp touts support from Republicans, the Native American voters who were key to her narrow 2012 victory over Republican Rick Berg seem to have cooled on her in 2018. The Associated Press had an eyebrow-raising report on it over the weekend.

An excerpt:

STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION, N.D. (AP) — Standing Rock Sioux tribal member Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun went door to door on North Dakota’s largest American Indian reservations in 2012 turning out the tribal vote to help put Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in the U.S. Senate. Six years later, with Heitkamp fighting hard to win a second term, Hunte-Beaubrun is staying on the sidelines.

She is among Indian voters who say they’ve lost their zeal for Heitkamp over her perceived non-stance on the Dakota Access pipeline, which brought thousands of American Indians and others to the state in 2016 and 2017 to protest its construction under the Missouri River, just outside Standing Rock.

“It was really a kick in the stomach,” Hunte-Beaubrun said. “We rallied so hard for her, but when her hand was forced she basically sold out to big oil.”

To that point about Heitkamp supposedly selling out to “big oil,” notice that the ad above leads by touting Heitkamp’s work in lifting the ban on crude oil exports.

This situation illustrates perfectly Heitkamp’s dilemma in 2018. Back in 2012 it was easy for the Senator to be all things to all people. She didn’t have a voting record, after all. Now, though, Heitkamp must campaign on a voting record for the first time in her political career (her previous time in elected office was in the executive branch) and she must consider how to peel off enough Republican voters to win without losing so many voters from her left-wing constituencies that it causes her to lose.

Right now it seems Heitkamp is counting on her liberal base shows up at the polls anyway despite her overtures to Republicans.