Report: Democrats Confident Heitkamp Can Be Persuaded to Vote Against Kavanaugh


FILE -- Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) speaks with former librarian Gerry Wagness at the Tofthagen Library and Museum in Lakota, N.D., July 14, 2018. The sexual assault accusation against Judge Brett Kavanaugh hasn’t just upended what was expected to be his relatively easy Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court. The allegation has also scrambled the political calculations for 10 Democratic senators running for re-election in states won by President Donald Trump, particularly moderate Democrats. (Tim Gruber/The New York Times)

Senator Heidi Heitkamp has been running away – literally – from questions about the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but according to a report in Politico today Democrats feel the incumbent who has been trailing by slim margins in the polls can be persuaded to vote against him:

Sens. Jon Tester of Montana, Doug Jones of Alabama and Bill Nelson of Florida, all publicly undecided, are expected to be firmly in the “no” column, those people said.

Tester said Tuesday that, while he’s watching the Thursday hearing closely, he’s also concerned about his inability to set an in-person meeting with the judge.

“We’re getting close to the end here. I don’t know if we’re ever going to find a time or not,” Tester said, adding that he wants to discuss issues such as privacy, campaign finance law and abortion. “If I don’t meet with him, it’s a problem.”

Democrats are similarly upbeat that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) can be persuaded to vote no, senators and aides said. She supported Justice Neil Gorsuch last year and has been intensely targeted by the GOP to back Kavanaugh. But her opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), created a stir this week when he questioned whether the assault allegations would disqualify Kavanaugh “even if it’s all true.”

What would this mean for Heitkamp’s re-election chances? As I told Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel yesterday, I’m not convinced that Heitkamp has any good options when it comes to how she votes on Kavanaugh:

Rob Port, a North Dakota conservative radio host and blogger, said there might be no politically sound option for Heitkamp — especially with the Republican base increasingly seeing Kavanaugh as unfairly smeared and embattled by the left.

“If Heitkamp votes against him, I suspect right-of-center voters here are going to see it as something less about Kavanaugh than as a tacit endorsement of the tactics used against him,” Port said. “Either way she votes, she’s going to lose votes, and she can’t afford to lose any.”

If Heitkamp votes for Kavanaugh, her left wing base which is normally at peace with her wink-wink-nod-nod shifts to the right on election years would probably be incensed. It’s one thing to stray from liberal orthodoxy on, say, in-the-weeds energy policy. It’s another thing to cast a vote for a Supreme Court nominee Democrats have already decided is a sex predator whose appointment would literally kill women.

But a no vote would probably have most Republican voters, which North Dakota has a lot of, seeing Heitkamp as siding with Democratic efforts to smear a political appointee with slimy innuendo.

Which of those groups can Heitkamp afford to offend?

Probably neither, given how tight this race is.

I think Heitkamp will likely vote against Kavanaugh, if only because it’s a bit of a lose-lose situation and she’ll probably default to the partisan position.