UPDATE: The Heitkamp campaign has clarified the Senator’s comments on the issue of Russia influencing the Senate race. Read below.
A couple of things have happened which make me think that Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign is in full-on panic mode.
For one thing the Democratic Senator gave an exclusive interview to Breitbart – yes, that Breitbart, a news outlet derided by Heitkamp’s political base as a digital den for white nationalists – in which she touted her supposedly long-time support for a border wall.
“I’ve always supported increased and enhanced border security along our southwest border with Mexico – including physical barriers, sensors, drones, and more resources at our ports of entry – and yes, wall funding as well. My votes clearly reflect a commitment to robust border security funding,” Heitkamp said.
I’m not sure that squares with the Senator’s voting record. “I just wish we could get beyond it,” she said of the border wall issue last year. She voted against a border fence in 2013. She voted against cracking down on sanctuary cities in 2015, 2016, and 2018.
This year she also voted for legislation which would have provided permanent residence for illegal immigrants without funding a border wall.
But it’s not just that Heitkamp, despite the aforementioned voting record, is suddenly pitching herself as a border hawk to an “alt-right” website (to use the parlance of the Senator’s political base). She’s also playing the Russia card:
Heitkamp, responding to a question during a meeting with The Forum Editorial Board, said she believes the Russians could try to intercede on Cramer’s behalf in the race.
“I would be a fool if I didn’t think that was true,” Heitkamp said.
To be fair to Heitkamp she was responding to a question from the Fargo Forum editorial board, which in turn was working off a batty column by left wing commentator Lloyd Omdahl, but if I had to guess I’d say the editorial board was probably surprised that Heitkamp took a bite at that particular apple.
I know I was surprised. Why even go there? I get concern over campaign IT security, generally, but why go down the Russia rabbit hole at all?
Cramer, for his part, laughed it off. “It sounds like a really pathetic excuse for poor performance in the election in advance,” he said.
That’s what I thought too when I read the initial story about Heitkamp’s comments (which, at the time, didn’t yet include Cramer’s response).
Is Heitkamp laying the ground work to excuse what would be a devastating loss on the statewide ballot for North Dakota Democrats this cycle?
It kinda seems like it. Blaming the Russians would mean Democrats wouldn’t have to acknowledge that they stand for things most voters here just don’t want.
UPDATE: The Heitkamp campaign reached out to my colleague Patrick Springer, who wrote the story about the Senator’s comments on Russia, and asked that he clarify his reporting on his comments. They assert that Heitkamp wasn’t saying that Russia would try to influence the race in Cramer’s favor specifically. Which I guess means the Senator is saying Russia could maybe influence the race in her direction?
Anyway, via Springer who has updated his story, here’s the transcript of the questioning:
Q: Can you talk a little about Russia? Maybe just a political question first. Are you concerned that the Russians will try to influence the North Dakota Senate race?
HH: I would be a fool if I didn’t think that.
Q: We learned that the Russians, at least they’re suspected of trying to hack into Senator McCaskill’s operation and one other Senate campaign. Any evidence that’s happening to you?
HH: I think I can say no. But we very early, sat down in the campaign and spent a lot of time talking about two-factor verification. So, we did all the cyber hygiene that you would normally expect a campaign to do. And we are absolutely vigilant not only in my Senate office but also… In the Senate office we have some armory that we don’t have in a campaign office because you have that infrastructure of the sergeant of arms who manages all of this and the secretary of the senate. And on our side, we just have to be on our own. But we’ve done a pretty good job of threatening people, saying do not open that or do not open this.
Q: Any evidence of front groups that are ginning up controversy one way or the other in North Dakota targeted at you?
HH: None that I could point to. I think we have some indication that that’s going to happen.
Q: Just because that’s the way they operate?
HH: Yep. And I just think that we are monitoring social media very closely.
Q: Any idea, is North Dakota, the election apparatus, well-defended?
HH: Well you should talk to Al Jaeger. I’ve talked to Al Jaeger and he just said I don’t think we have a problem.
Q: Right that’s pretty much what he’s telling us too.
HH: But I`m a big believer that there should be paper ballots. We should never get away from paper ballots. There should always be a verifiable paper ballot. States that are most vulnerable are the states that don’t have paper ballots behind the count.