Back in May I wrote that incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp wins elections by making the electorate hate her opponents.
It’s a strategy born of Heitkamp’s need, at certain times, to be something less than devoted to the progressive, left-wing principles of her political party. The best way to defend her cynical, hypocritical shift to the right during election years is to make voters hate her opponent.
During the 2012 cycle Heitkamp and her Democratic allies smeared her Republican opponent, Rick Berg, as a “slum lord” who “attacks women.”
Fast forward to the 2018 cycle. Heitkamp is behind in the polls, with early voting starting in less than two weeks, and it’s time for the hate campaign to begin.
“Sen. Heitkamp unleashes six-figure TV ad against Rep. Kevin Cramer questioning how much he cares about farmers,” a CNBC headline reads this morning.
“Mr. Cramer, that trade war is costing my family a lot of money and you don’t seem to care,” Charles Linderman says in the ad.
Mr. Linderman is portrayed as a soybean farmer harmed by trade tariffs, though according to subsidy disclosures soybeans are just his #4 crop so it’s difficult to know how much he’s been impacted directly by the Trump administration’s policies. It’s worth noting that he’s also been on the ballot for Democrats in the past.
Here’s the ad itself:
I’m not sure how effective this will be.
For one thing, the soundbites of Cramer used in the ad are so clearly cherry-picked that I suspect viewers will be left with the impression that the whole attack is a bit dishonest.
For another, Cramer is not exactly Rick Berg.
Still, this strategy of intensely negative campaigning has worked for Heitkamp in the past. It’s why she’s in the Senate today. For as fashionable as it is to bemoan negative campaign tactics, politicians do this sort of thing because it works. At least in the aggregate.