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Commentary: The ugly, nasty, awful Heitkamp political machine

MINOT, N.D.—This week Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's campaign attempted to dunk on its opponent, Congressman Kevin Cramer, with a print ad accusing him of being insensitive.

It very quickly turned into a self own.

The ad was shaped in the form of an open letter from sexual assault survivors to Cramer responding to some of his comments related to the controversy around Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but some of the named women didn't give their permission to be used in the ad.

Thirteen women named in the ad are now on the record saying they didn't want to be named.

In a Facebook post, one of them said she isn't even a sexual assault survivor.

Another woman said privately she didn't learn of her inclusion in the ad until she got a call from father who, in turn, had been getting calls from friends and family thinking she'd been raped or assaulted.

It's an awful situation. One would expect someone, like Heitkamp, who has vociferously touted her record on sexual assault would be more careful in how the names of sexual assault survivors are used.

Sadly, sticking it to Cramer seems to have won out over the senator's better judgment.

Beyond that, the Democrat from North Dakota's handling of the controversy was interesting. After I was the first to report on this story, Heitkamp's campaign staff reached out to me to schedule an interview on my radio show on Tuesday.

This is significant because, as you readers know, Heitkamp has been boycotting me for more than six years now. Until this week neither she nor her staff would respond to my requests for comment. They wouldn't respond to requests for interviews.

I couldn't even get them to so much as send me a press release.

All that despite pretty much every other statewide Democratic candidate doing interviews with me in the last several political cycles.

That it took something as awful as this open letter faceplant is perhaps a testament to just how politically damaging the controversy is.

And it is damaging.

Heitkamp has been justifying her controversial vote against Kavanaugh by invoking her concern for sexual assault victims, only to turn around and abuse some survivors of rape and assault for political purpose.

Not only does Heitkamp's defense of her Kavanaugh vote look tissue thin, but she's lost the moral high ground on the whole #MeToo issue.

There are still weeks of this campaign left, and I'm loathe to ever write off a politician as skilled and ruthlessly ambitious as Heitkamp is, but it's hard to imagine how her campaign recovers at this point.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort and listen on WDAY AM 970.

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