While election night was an ugly one for most Democrats, it seems to have opened up an opportunity for rabidly ambitious Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Ever since the votes were tallied Heitkamp has been posturing herself as a key centrist in the Senate chamber. Someone to whom Democrats and Republicans alike will need cater on close votes.
Indeed, that’s the topic of an Associated Press profile about Heitkamp’s new-found position.
“Still facing a 6-vote threshold to advance most major bills, Republicans will want her support on any legislation they hope to get to President Barack Obama’s desk,” the AP reports. “For Democrats, the ability to keep her and like-minded moderates in line will determine how effectively they can oppose Republicans’ legislative priorities.”
That’s pretty heady stuff for a first-term U.S. Senator who barely eked out her 2012 victory by less than 1 percent of the vote, her state party’s only victory on the statewide ballot since 2008.
But how much of Heitkamp’s new positioning is authentic, and how much of it is so much political whitewash and raw power play?
North Dakota voters will remember that Heitkamp ran long and hard away from her national party during her 2012 campaign. A state party official threatened lawsuits against anyone who used video of Heitkamp praising Obama at the 2008 national Democrat convention. Whether or not Heitkamp planned on voting for Obama in 2012 was a fact that had to be drug out of her by questioning from a voter. Heitkamp actually skipped her party’s national convention in 2012, and never failed to describe herself as an “independent” in her campaign marketing that year, as opposed to a Democrat.
That was enough to give Heitkamp an oh-so-narrow victory over Republican Rick Berg. But then Heitkamp went to Congress and promptly voted with President Barack Obama’s agenda 97 percent of the time.
Now that Democrats have lost control of the Senate, however, Heitkamp apparently sees the need to go back to the idea that she’s an “independent.” Once it was clear Democrats had lost control of Congress’ upper chamber Heitkamp quickly began hinting that she wouldn’t be voting to keep Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a leadership position. She followed that up by actually voting against Reid, along with five other supposedly “moderate” Democrats, and voila. Suddenly Heitkamp is perceived as an important swing vote in the Senate.
Yet, actions speak louder than words, don’t they? Heitkamp voting with President Obama’s agenda 97 percent of the time makes it a little hard to believe that she’s had much of a problem with the left-wing agenda her national party has been pushing these last few years.
In 2012, when Heitkamp was the beneficiary of nearly $3.3 million in political contributions and spending from Reid, his leadership fund, and the Senate Majority PAC which Reid’s allies control, did she not understand what sort of leadership Reid was bringing to the Senate? Was she not aware of Reid’s style when she voted to keep him as majority leader for the first two years of her term?
If Heitkamp has such a problem with the Democrat agenda, and the way Reid went about advancing it in the Senate, why was she such a loyal vote for both before now?
Remember, when Reid wanted to weaken the minority party in the Senate by gutting filibuster rules, Heitkamp voted with her leader even as other Democrats (including Senator Joe Manchin, another self-styled moderate Democrat from West Virginia) voted no.
If Heitkamp had been critical of Reid or his agenda before election day this post-election posturing might be more believable. But as it stands, contrasting Heitkamp’s words with actions, this all comes off as calculating and cynical. The sort of thing Heitkamp would have us believe she isn’t.