If You’re Going to Attack My Credibility Please Quote Me Accurately

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who is running for re-election, talks to voters at AFL-CIO House of Labor in Bismarck, N.D., Nov. 5, 2018. (Hilary Swift/Copyright 2019 The New York Times)

A recent letter to the editor by one David Wells attacks my credibility.

“I believe some clarification is in order regarding Rob Port’s description of Democrat Heidi Heitkamp’s political career in his July 17th column. Port is either woefully ignorant of Heitkamp’s political history or he is making a deliberate attempt to deceive Forum readers to advance his bias (more likely),” Wells writes.

His beef? Supposedly I mischaracterized former Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s political history.

“Port refers to Heitkamp’s ‘…one, flukey electoral victory…’ [US Senate] as a dumb reason for Democrats to listen to Heitkamp. It should be noted that Heitkamp was elected state tax commissioner in 1986 with 66% of the votes and remained in that capacity until 1992. She was elected attorney general in 1992 and again in 1996 with 62% and 64% of the votes respectively,” Wells writes.

If Democrats want to listen to Heitkamp tell them how to win over rural voters, despite little evidence that she herself has been good at it over the course of the last 20 years, they’re certainly welcome to it.

That’s all accurate, as far as it goes. If we take it at face value, it would seem Wells caught me leaving out some important parts of Heitkamp’s resume.

But we shouldn’t take it at face value because Wells – perhaps making a “deliberate attempt to deceive Forum readers” – cherry-picked his quote from my column.

Here’s the full sentence: “For some reason Heidi Heitkamp — despite just one, flukey electoral victory to her name in the last two decades — has been anointed an expert in certain Democratic circles on how to appeal to rural voters.”

Wells ignores that “in the last two decades” part. Probably because, if he’d included it in his letter, his recitation of Heitkamp political victories in the 80’s and 90’s would be beside the point.

My argument is that it’s silly to hold Heidi Heitkamp up as an expert on what rural voters want when she lost re-election by a wide margin in a campaign before rural voters in 2018, and has won just one election in North Dakota in the last two decades. That one by a margin representing less than one percent of the vote.

It’s a fair point. If Democrats want to listen to Heitkamp tell them how to win over rural voters, despite little evidence that she herself has been good at it over the course of the last 20 years, they’re certainly welcome to it.

I’m just not sure it’s a wise move for people who want to learn how to win elections in rural parts of the country.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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