North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp apologized Tuesday after her campaign erroneously included names of several women without their permission in an open letter from sexual assault survivors criticizing her Republican opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer.
Her campaign ran an open letter to Cramer in a local newspaper criticizing recent comments he made about the #MeToo movement and sexual assault survivors. The ad was signed by more than 100 women. But a conservative blog on Tuesday posted Facebook comments from several women who said their names were included without their knowledge or permission, and Heitkamp acknowledged the mistake and apologized.
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“We recently discovered that several of the women’s names who were provided to us did not authorize their names to be shared or were not survivors of abuse,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “I deeply regret this mistake and we are in the process of issuing a retraction, personally apologizing to each of the people impacted by this and taking the necessary steps to ensure this never happens again.”
Heitkamp, the most vulnerable Democratic senator facing reelection this year, has been trailing by significant margins in recent public and private polls, and Republicans believe North Dakota is the likeliest Senate seat to flip in the midterms. Democrats do not discount the uphill battle she faces, but they argue that Heitkamp’s personal brand and the state’s small population give her an opportunity to close the gap over the next three weeks.
But Tuesday’s public misstep was a setback for Heitkamp’s efforts to keep the race competitive and focused on her and Cramer’s records.
The ad, which ran in the local newspaper, was an open letter attacking Cramer after he told the New York Times that women in his family “cannot understand this movement toward victimization. They are pioneers of the prairie. These are tough people whose grandparents were tough and great-grandparents were tough.”
“We are here to let you know that we have all suffered from domestic violence, sexual assault or rape — and that yes, we expect somebody to believe us when we say it. Because it happened,” the open letter to Cramer reads. “As North Dakotans who have experienced this absolute terror firsthand and survived these crimes — we are all prairie tough.”
The letter was signed by more than 100 women. But Say Anything, a conservative political blog in North Dakota, discovered Facebook posts from at least three women claiming they had not given the campaign permission to use their names, and were misidentified as sexual assault survivors.
“A lot of these people listed, including me, did not give anyone permission for our names to be posted. I don’t even support Heidi Heitkamp and I am not a domestic abuse survivor,” one woman wrote on Facebook, according to a screenshot posted by the blog.
“I NEVER gave my consent or permission, written or verbal, to be involved in anything like this: for, against, or personally affected,” another woman wrote in a Facebook comment.
Heitkamp voted against Justice Brett Kavanaugh last month, facing a barrage of attacks from Republicans who believe her opposition to President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court seat doomed her campaign. But she received an influx of campaign donations following the vote, and Heitkamp has attempted to turn her opposition against Kavanaugh into a political positive. She has criticized Cramer for his remarks on the topic — he has made headlines multiple times for his rhetoric about the assault allegations — and cut a TV ad explaining her vote as one of political independence.
“You can say all these crazy things, but sometimes the crazy things you say and how you behave has real consequences here,” Heitkamp told POLITICO last week, talking about Cramer’s comments about sexual assault allegations.
But Michael McAdams, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Heitkamp’s letter a “desperate” political maneuver in an email Tuesday.
“Eager to save her failing campaign, Heidi Heitkamp has stooped to a new low,” McAdams said.