Heitkamp Chief of Staff, Without Irony, Says the Senator’s Key to Success Is to “Get Out and Talk to People”


Politico has made a “power list” of “women to watch” in Washington D.C., and on that list is North Dakota’s own Tessa Gould.

Gould is Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s chief of staff, well known the media types in the state as the person who will send you nasty emails and shout at you on the phone if your news outlet publishes things critical of Heitkamp.

To Politico Gould credits herself with Heitkamp’s upset victory over Republican Rick Berg in 2012, and says the key to Democrats winning in red states like North Dakota is getting the Senator out to talk to people.

It’s not clear from Politico’s reporting if Gould managed to get that whopper out with a straight face:

“It’s pretty frustrating to some of us to hear this sort of ‘Trump won because of middle America and the Clinton campaign didn’t really pay enough attention, or didn’t think about middle America,’” Gould said in an interview in her Capitol Hill office. “There isn’t a magical elixir here. It’s get out and talk to people and meet with people and have those conversations.”

Gould re-iterated this point toward the end of the article as well:

The biggest shift with Election Day nearing has been to focus on getting Heitkamp’s message out and making sure she has enough face-time in North Dakota. “People know her. They expect to have time with her, talking with her directly,” she said.

Senator Heitkamp and her staff are notorious for their attempts to control media coverage. While Heitkamp is a regular on her brother’s Fargo-based radio program, she’s a tough book for others. Particularly those of us in the media who are right-of-center in our politics.

I have been requesting press releases, statements, and interviews from Senator Heitkamp and her staff dating all the way back to her 2012 campaign for the Senate. These days I send an interview request to Senator Heitkamp’s office every Monday, and I never receive an answer. This despite writing what is by far the state’s most popular political blog, two print columns a week that are published in most of the state’s daily newspapers, and hosting a radio show in the state’s largest media market.

Conservative talk radio host Scott Hennen, who is syndicated on stations across the state, said his rebuffed interview requests sent to Heitkamp “now number into the hundreds.”

The answer comes back every time: “No. She doesn’t have time for you.”

At least Hennen gets an answer. I’m not even extended that courtesy.

Chris Berg, a conservative television commentator who broadcasts for Valley News Live in Fargo, also has problems booking Heitkamp. “It’s just sad that a woman who has been in politics all these years won’t come on and answer the tough questions,” he told me last year. “She works for all North Dakotans, so you would think she would want to speak to all North Dakotans.”

You’d think. In fact, that’s what Gould says is the key to Heitkamp’s success. That she’s accessible to North Dakotans.

Except, when is that happening? Congressman Cramer, Heitkamp’s opponent this year, routinely goes on talk radio to take calls from constituents. He’s on my show, Hennen’s show, and several others across the state every week. Cramer also routinely holds face-to-face town hall events where he’ll take questions directly from the crowd. Cramer even accepted an invitation to take questions at an event organized by a far-left group. As you might expect, it got pretty shouty, but still. Cramer was in the arena.

Does anyone remember Heitkamp doing anything similar?

When I write about Heitkamp’s lack of accessibility, when I point out her refusal to engage with me unlike pretty much every other North Dakota Democratic candidate, her defenders argue that I’m too mean to her. That she shouldn’t have to speak to someone like me who is critical of her.

And yet, during the 2012 election, Heitkamp and her left wing supporters were happy to bash Republican candidate Rick Berg for not appearing on her brother’s radio show.

I wish what Gould had to say about Senator Heitkamp was true. I wish she was the sort of politician who got out and spoke to people directly.

She’s just not.