Heitkamp Attacks Cramer for Agreeing With Her on Oil Exports, Undermining Her Own Arguments About Bipartisanship


N.D. Senator Heidi Heitkamp speaks during a question-and-anbswer session Wednesday afternoon with the Grand Forks Herald editorial board. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

If you had asked me months ago what sort of issue the candidates would go to war over in North Dakota’s high-profile U.S. Senate race, I’m pretty sure the lifting of the oil export ban would have been at the bottom of my list.

Yet here we are.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, after months of campaign messaging posturing her as a pragmatic “work with anyone” sort of leader with a taste for bipartisanship, is attacking Congressman Kevin Cramer for agreeing with her on lifting the oil export ban.

“Thief! Heitkamp charges opponent with stealing credit for bill she championed,” is the headline from NBC News.

From the article:

Both lawmakers agree that the 2015 bill repealing the ban, which had been in place since an Middle Eastern oil embargo led to an oil shortage crisis in the 1970s, has been a boon for North Dakota, a state with significant oil reserves that have buoyed its economy in recent years. But Heitkamp, considered one of the more vulnerable Senate Democrats, said Cramer’s claims of leadership in getting the legislation passed are misleading.

Contrast that with something Heitkamp herself wrote in a 2017 newspaper column:

These days, Congress is far too often a place of partisanship and grandstanding. It’s apparent with the hastily written tax reform bill that is being pushed through Congress which would explode our country’s debt. But during my time in the U.S. Senate, I’ve found that if I seek out Republicans and Democrats who really want to work together to find solutions, we can reach results that support North Dakota and the country.

Heitkamp and Cramer worked toward the same goal of lifting the oil export ban for the benefit of North Dakota, yet now Heitkamp is attacking Cramer for taking credit for his portion of that work.

What, exactly, is the point of this exercise?

Campaigns are supposed to be about the candidates debating their contrasts as a way to inform voters about the choices they’ll have at the ballot box. Yet when it comes to the oil export ban, there isn’t any daylight between Cramer’s position and Heitkamp’s.

Heitkamp attacking Cramer on this issue seems an exercise in narcissism, and the sort of petty partisanship Heitkamp supposedly eschews. Yet this isn’t the first time Heitkamp and her campaign have done something like this.

Earlier this election cycle Heitkamp’s campaign attacked Cramer for getting appointed to the conference committee negotiating the farm bill. A Heitkamp campaign staffer called it “politics at its worse.”

Yet, from the perspective of North Dakota voters, how could Cramer’s appointment be anything but a good thing? The farm bill is hugely consequential for North Dakota’s economy, and having our only member of the House of Representatives on the committee to negotiate the final version of that legislation is a positive.

Besides, when Heitkamp was appointed to the Senate side of that committee, Cramer didn’t attack her. He congratulated her, as it was a good thing for North Dakota, something Republicans have been pointing out in recent campaign ads: