National Dems reserve $1.2M in fall ad time in North Dakota

FARGO – The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has reportedly reserved $1.2 million in fall advertising time for North Dakota’s U.S. Senate race.

The national Democratic campaign arm has put their full support behind Heidi Heitkamp, who’s competing against Republican Rep. Rick Berg.

The DSCC’s first two ads of the 2012 election cycle targeted North Dakota’s race. The group has purchased at least $160,000 in ad time here so far.

Roll Call reports the DSCC reserved airtime from Oct. 2 through Nov. 5 to potentially run ads in North Dakota during the final weeks leading up to Election Day.

The reservation is part of a nationwide blitz the DSCC has planned, in order to target the nation’s most competitive races, Roll Call wrote.

Reserving ad time is different than purchasing it. Political groups often opt to purchase less time than they reserve, but by reserving blocks of time in advance, they can secure better placement.

FACT-CHECK: Peering behind newest punches in the Senate race

READ MORE “FORUM FACT-CHECKS”.


FARGO – With the general election campaign in full swing, new ads in the U.S. Senate race are inundating North Dakotans this month through the TV and internet.

National Republicans and Democrats have targeted North Dakota’s Senate race, because the outcome could determine which party holds power in the Senate next year.

Democrat Heidi Heitkamp has released two campaign ads in the past eight days: one, an attack on her opponent and the other, a rebuttal to national Republicans’ own assault on her.

The campaign arm of the conservative super PAC, American Crossroads, is hammering Heitkamp again for her support of the 2010 health care reform law.

Meanwhile, national Democrats are out with another attack of their own against the Republican candidate, Rep. Rick Berg.

(NOTE: Several of the claims made in these ads have already been addressed in previous installments of the “Forum Fact-check.”)

Here’s a breakdown of each ad and the facts behind their claims:


Heitkamp: “Minimum Wage

While North Dakotans were deciding the contested GOP primary in the U.S. Senate race June 12, Heitkamp unveiled an online ad against Berg. (Berg won the primary by a 2-to-1 margin over challenger Duane Sand.)

Heitkamp’s ad dramatizes a video shot by North Dakota Democrats in May at a GOP campaign event, in which Berg appears unable to answer a question about North Dakota’s minimum wage.

 

Unidentified girl to Berg: “What is the minimum wage right now at North Dakota?”

Berg: “Hmmm.”

Ad: “Need a lifeline?”

Berg to someone in another room: “Do you know what the minimum wage is in North Dakota now?”

Unidentified person in the other room: “Same as federal.”

Berg: “Do you know what that is?”

Ad: “Answer: $7.25”

Heitkamp spokesman Brandon Lorenz said the Democratic-NPL Party is responsible for the home video-style footage captured at the GOP event.

The Democrats quickly released the video in an attempt to show how disconnected Berg might be from his constituents.

Berg’s campaign spokesman Chris Van Guilder accused Heitkamp of using “an undercover political operative (and) ‘gotcha’ games” in crafting the attack ad.

“What you also won’t see in this clipped video is that Rick knew the questioned wage within cents of its actual amount,” Van Guilder said as evidenced by the full video posted online by North Dakota Democrats.

“He explained that for some professions the wage would be different, and then went to double check in order to give the ‘student’ a thoroughly accurate answer,” Van Guilder added.

Lorenz said “the footage speaks for itself.”

 

Undated Valley News Live broadcast: “Berg voted against raising the minimum wage.”

According to North Dakota legislative records, Berg joined a nearly unanimous bloc of House members who, in 2007, approved raising the minimum wage to the current legal rate.

Berg served as a Fargo legislator for 25 years before he was elected to Congress in 2010.

In three other known instances – in 1999, 2005 and 2007 – Berg did vote against other proposals to raise the minimum wage.

In each of those cases, he voted with as much as a 2-to-1 majority in shooting down the proposals, the legislative record shows.

In 1999, House bill 1420 would have required employers to pay at least $6.50 an hour. The bill failed 36-62, with Berg voting against it. The state’s minimum wage at the time was $5.15, same as the federal rate.

The same proposal went before the House again in 2005. Berg also voted against that, too, and House bill 1382 failed 26-63.

In 2007, when Congress sought to boost the federal minimum wage to $7.25, North Dakota lawmakers weighed the same proposal but were divided on how quickly to make the transition to a higher rate.

Legislation sponsored by state House Democrats would’ve made the higher minimum wage effective in August 2007. House bill 1337 failed along party lines, 33-58.

Instead, lawmakers approved House bill 1454, which would raise the hourly rate to $7.25 over two years.

The measure passed the House 87-3, including support from Berg. That legislation ultimately went on to become law.

 

Ed Schultz in undated MSNBC broadcast: “Berg repeatedly voted to raise the salary of state lawmakers.”

On several occasions between 1997 and 2009, North Dakota legislators approved increases to their sources of compensation.

Legislative records show Berg was split in his support for the various proposals but generally voted with the majority of lawmakers in approving them.

North Dakota lawmakers are paid for each day during the legislative session, plus a monthly salary, and each day they serve for interim work. They also receive a monthly stipend to pay for lodging in Bismarck.

Prior to 1997, state legislators went 16 years without giving themselves a pay raise, The Forum reported then. Legislators’ daily pay had been $90.

That year, Berg voted against increasing daily and monthly salaries but in favor of increases to legislators’ housing stipends, legislative records show.

Senate bill 2051 raised legislators’ daily pay during sessions to $111 and increased their monthly salaries from $180 to $250. It passed the House by a 78-15 vote. Berg was among the small minority who opposed the bill.

Lawmakers also increased their monthly housing allowance from $600 to $650. Senate bill 2053 passed the House by a 71-24 vote, including support from Berg.

In 1999, Berg voted with a 69-28 majority to increase legislators’ compensation for attending meetings outside the regular session.

Senate bill 2055 raised legislators’ compensation from $62.50 per day to $75 per day for interim duties.

In 2001, Berg was again split on his support for pay increases for the Legislature.

Senate bill 2175 raised legislators’ daily pay by 13 percent to $125 a day during the regular session. The measure passed the House by a 60-34 vote, with Berg among the opposition.

Separately, though, lawmakers again voted to increase their daily stipend for interim committee meetings from $75 to $100, a measure Berg supported. The state House passed Senate bill 2176 by an 84-10 vote.

In 2005, however, Berg supported increases to legislators’ daily pay in a controversial, but failed, proposal that went before the Legislature.

Then the House majority leader, Berg was at the center of a controversy in which members unknowingly voted to raise their own pay.

The House Appropriations Committee had approved an amendment to Senate bill 2001 that called for lawmakers’ daily pay to increase from $125 to $135. The amended measure passed the committee unanimously, but word about the provision was apparently not relayed to the House floor.

House members approved the amended version of SB 2001 along with a slew of other bills, as part of their consent calendar, when numerous bills are acted on with one motion and no discussion.

According to a report by The Forum, when lawmakers confronted Berg with their frustrations, Berg accepted responsibility and said legislators could bring the measure back for reconsideration.

“It’s just been hectic,” Berg was quoted as saying at the time. “It didn’t occur to me this would be a concern.”

The House version of the bill – including the increased pay for state lawmakers – passed the chamber two days later by a 70-20 vote. Berg supported it.

However, a conference committee of House and Senate members rejected the House amendments, and the final bill passed both chambers without any pay increase for lawmakers. The final House vote on the compromise bill was 59-30, with Berg supporting it.

Also in 2005, state lawmakers voted to increase their monthly housing allowance from $650 to $900 to accommodate demands from Bismarck-area hotels, The Forum reported. Senate bill 2059 passed the House by a 75-18 vote, with Berg’s support.

In 2007 and again in 2009, North Dakota lawmakers also approved increases to their daily pay and monthly salary.

Berg supported those changes, which affected lawmakers who were in office at the time and, to a greater extent, those who would be in office the following session.

In 2007, legislators gave themselves a pay raise that took full effect in summer 2008.

The compromise version of House bill 1106 that passed the Legislature – by a 49-44 vote in the House – called for raising the weekly pay from $875 to $945. That amounted to a salary of $135 a day for the 2009-10 session, which was Berg’s last in office.

The original version of the bill approved by the House – by 63-29, with support from Berg – would have boosted lawmakers’ daily pay to $140, or what amounted to a 12-percent raise.

Most recently, in 2009, lawmakers approved Senate bill 2064, which increased daily and monthly compensation beginning in July of that year. The full increase took effect in July 2010, at which time legislators began earning $148 per day and a salary of $415 per month during the next regular session.

The compromise bill passed the House by a final vote of 54-36 with Berg’s support.

Meanwhile, for Heitkamp’s part: As attorney general, she drew fire in 1994 for authorizing pay increases for her office, which amounted to a 32 percent salary hike for some of her assistant attorneys general when most other state employees received only a 3 percent raise.

Although state leaders at the time wanted to tighten their belts, Heitkamp told The Forum in 1994 that the pay increases were necessary to make the attorney general’s office more competitive against lucrative private practice opportunities.

Heitkamp’s decision increased her office’s payroll by almost $165,000 that year. Her own salary – which was determined by the Legislature – was not affected.


Crossroads: “Change

Crossroads GPS says it bought $132,000 for its latest ad buy, which will run for at least another week in North Dakota.

The TV ad is the second attack from the conservative group, which criticizes Heitkamp’s support for health care reform.

 

Narrator: “Heidi Heitkamp supports Obamacare and predicted…”

Heitkamp, in 2010 video: “This bill will change the face of health care.”

The ad pulls video from an April 2010 rally, in which Heitkamp was the keynote speaker heralding passage of the health care reform law.

Heitkamp called the bill “a legacy vote” and urged supporters of the law to “be vigilant” against critics who would seek to repeal it.

Two years later, though, Heitkamp said this spring – for the first time publicly – that she’s “often said that it’s not a perfect law.”

In her March 2012 comments to The Forum, Heitkamp said there are “some good things” but also “some serious problems with the law.”

 Narrator: “She’s right. Obamacare cuts Medicare spending by $500 billion…”

A March 2011 report from the CBO said health care reform would reduce federal spending to the entitlement program by $492 billion by 2019.

Those cuts come in part due to changes in the Medicare’s fee-for-service policies, the report said.

North Dakota Democrats – including Heitkamp’s campaign – say the attack is misleading since Berg himself supported similar cuts to Medicare.

In 2011, Berg voted in favor of the budget proposal offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Ryan’s plan called for an overhaul of the Medicare program that included $450 billion in cuts, according to The Associated Press.

The Ryan budget plan was never enacted.

 

Narrator: “… gives unelected bureaucrats the power to restrict seniors’ care …”

The 2010 health care law created an Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB, as a means to control costs in the Medicare program.

The 15-member board is set to take effect in 2014 and make annual recommendations to Congress about how to improve quality of care for Medicare recipients.

The board is “prohibited from recommending changes that would ration care, increase costs for beneficiaries, reduce benefits, or change eligibility,” according to healthcare.gov.

Berg has lobbied for repeal of the IPAB, which the House approved eliminating this spring.

The Senate has not yet voted on whether to repeal the IPAB.

 

Narrator: “… and now, costs and premiums are likely to go up.”

While health care reform was working its way through Congress in 2009 and 2010, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber – a chief architect of the 2010 law – was among the proponents who claimed the legislation would “for sure” reduce the cost of health insurance.

But Gruber said this year Obamacare could increase premiums by as much as 30 percent, according to a March report in Forbes magazine.

Gruber said he drew that conclusion from analyzing the health care markets in Wisconsin in August 2011, in Minnesota in November 2011 and in Colorado in January 2012.

 


Heitkamp: “12 years

Heitkamp released her latest ad on Monday in direct response to the Crossroads ad and Republicans’ repeated attacks over health care reform.

The ad makes Heitkamp among the first Democrats nationwide to address the controversial law in a Senate campaign ad.

 

Heitkamp: “I’m Heidi Heitkamp, and 12 years ago, I beat breast cancer.

Heitkamp’s battle with breast cancer was chronicled heavily in the latter months of the 2000 gubernatorial election, in which Heitkamp unsuccessfully faced Republican John Hoeven.

In September 2000, Heitkamp announced she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After a mastectomy and several rounds of successful chemotherapy and radiation treatments, tests found Heitkamp was cancer-free by July 2001.

Heitkamp: “…When you live through that, political attack ads seem silly.”

Heitkamp told The Forum in December 2011: “I don’t run against anyone. I run for the job.”

On the campaign trail, Heitkamp also often pledges to “put politics aside.”

However, since earlier this year, Heitkamp’s campaign rhetoric has repeatedly included direct and indirect assaults on her opponent, Rick Berg.

Berg’s campaign has also attacked Heitkamp, specifically for her support of health care reform and her ties to national Democrats.

Unlike Heitkamp, though, Berg’s attacks have not yet appeared in his campaign’s own ads.

The campaigns’ YouTube pages show Heitkamp has released one attack ad so far – hitting Berg on the minimum wage – while Berg’s ads so far have focused on his background and political record and have not mentioned Heitkamp.

 

Heitkamp: “I would never vote to take away a senior’s health care or limit anyone’s care. There’s good and bad in the health care law and it needs to be fixed…”

Studies from the Congressional Budget Office and other agencies have shown the 2010 law Heitkamp once said she fully supported will reduce Medicare spending by $492 billion by 2019 and could potentially increase individuals’ cost of health care.

In March 2012, Heitkamp first publicly expressed her mixed support for the law and her concerns about the individual mandate and burdensome regulations on businesses.

 

Heitkamp: “… but Rick Berg voted to go back – to letting insurance companies deny coverage to kids or for pre-existing conditions. I approve this message because I don’t ever want to go back to those days.”

After Berg took office in the U.S. House in 2011, one of his first votes was in favor of repealing the 2010 health care law in its totality. While the repeal effort passed the House, it failed in the Senate.

House Republicans – including Berg – have since sought to repeal the law piecemeal.

A successful example of that came in the repeal of burdensome tax requirements the health care law placed on businesses.


DSCC: “Spelled

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released its latest ad on Tuesday, presenting another assault on Berg’s voting record in both the North Dakota Legislature and the U.S. House.

The DSCC has purchased $86,000 of air time to run the TV ad through July 2, Roll Call reported Tuesday.

The ad reiterates several arguments the DSCC made in its first ad, released in late April and assessed in a Forum Fact-check then.

Almost all of the claims deal with Berg’s support for the 2012 and 2013 budget proposals by Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman.

Although they passed the House – with Berg’s support – neither of Ryan’s proposals have garnered enough support to become law.

 

Narrator: “One congressman has spelled out his Washington priorities quite clearly. He voted to give billions in tax breaks to millionaires…”

The 2012 and 2013 budgets proposed by House Republicans and supported by Berg included major tax reforms that would benefit wealthier Americans.

Specifically, the proposal from Paul Ryan this year “would cut taxes for the wealthy” by capping individual and corporate tax rates at 25 percent, which is down from today’s 35 percent brackets, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Creating a system based around those reformed tax brackets would potentially mean eliminating smaller tax credits and deductions, which would mostly affect low- to middle-income families, The Financial Times reported.

The House Ways & Means Committee, of which Berg is a member, would have been tasked with drafting the specific tax reform called for under Ryan’s 2013 budget plan.

The Senate voted, along party lines, against the Ryan plan in May.

Narrator: “… while essentially ending Medicare for the rest of us.”

In casting a vote in favor of the 2012 Ryan budget last year, Berg also endorsed a plan to revamp the Medicare system.

The overhaul, proposed by Ryan, sought to change Medicare from a fee-for-service program into one that subsidizes individuals’ private insurance..

The full quote from the The Wall Street Journal, which national Democrats cite in their ad, reads: Ryan’s plan “would essentially end Medicare … as a program that directly pays (health care) bills.”

National Democrats’ repeated claims that the overhaul would kill Medicare altogether have been debunked by PolitiFact and other national news outlets.

Narrator: “He voted repeatedly to raise his own pay…”

As detailed above, Berg’s record in the North Dakota Legislature shows he has cast votes in several sessions between 1997 and 2009 to increase legislators’ compensation.

Narrator: “… then gave tax breaks to companies that ship American jobs overseas.”

This claim again deals with Berg’s support for the 2013 Ryan budget proposal.

A March 2012 article from the Wall Street Journal said, “the plan would nearly eliminate U.S. taxes on American corporations’ earnings from overseas operations.”

FACT-CHECK: DSCC ad attacks Berg’s voting record, support for Ryan budgets

READ MORE “FORUM FACT-CHECKS”.


FARGO – National Democrats have launched a rebuttal ad targeting Republican Senate candidate Rep. Rick Berg in the wake of a conservative group’s attack on Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $76,000 on its ads in North Dakota, which marks the first TV ad buy from a national party this election year.

The DSCC’s ad comes in response to an attack ad launched last week by Crossroads GPS, the policy arm of American Crossroads, an influential super PAC founded by former Bush strategist Karl Rove.

Like Crossroads’ critique of Heitkamp, the DSCC’s ad attacks Berg’s record, specifically on Medicare and his support for House Republicans’ budget proposals.

Here’s a breakdown of the DSCC’s ad and the facts behind its claims:

Narrator: (Berg voted) to essentially end Medicare…

Berg voted April 15, 2011 in favor of House Republicans’ budget for fiscal year 2012, a proposal that included revamping Medicare.

The overhaul, proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, sought to change Medicare from a fee-for-service program into one that subsidizes individuals’ private insurance. The plan was never enacted.

The Wall Street Journal said Ryan’s plan “would essentially end Medicare … as a program that directly pays (health care) bills.” However, national Democrats’ claims that the proposed overhaul would kill Medicare altogether were debunked by PolitiFact and other national news outlets.

Narrator: … gut support for farmers ….

In claiming Berg voted to cut federal aid for farmers, the ad refers to Berg’s support for Ryan’s 2013 budget plan, which includes a recommendation to cut future farm bill spending by $180 billion.

That amount would far exceed the $23 billion in spending cuts the House and Senate Ag Committees agreed upon for the 2012 farm bill.

Berg said April 18 that Ryan’s recommendation of $180 billion has “no teeth” since specific budget cuts will be determined by congressional committees.

There’s not absolutely everything in the budget proposal that I agree with,” Berg said.

Narrator: … while giving huge tax breaks to millionaires.

The 2012 and 2013 budgets proposed by House Republicans and supported by Berg included major tax reforms that would benefit wealthier Americans.

Proposals in Ryan’s 2013 plan “would cut taxes for the wealthy” by capping individual and corporate tax rates at 25 percent, which is down from today’s 35 percent brackets, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Creating a system based around those reformed tax brackets would potentially mean eliminating smaller tax credits and deductions, which would mostly affect low- to middle-income families, The Financial Times reported.

The House Ways & Means Committee, of which Berg is a member, would be tasked with drafting the specific tax reform called for under Ryan’s 2013 budget plan.

Narrator: That’s not the way we do things in North Dakota. Heidi Heitkamp knows. She’ll protect Medicare and defend our farm and energy jobs.

In early April, Heitkamp wrote an editorial column that reaffirmed her support for a balanced budget amendment that did not include Medicare.

Heitkamp has pledged on the campaign trail that her top priorities include seniors, as well as energy and ag policy.

Democrats’ West Coast fundraising tour nets $900K, including $33K for Heitkamp

Heidi Heitkamp

FARGO – Heidi Heitkamp’s fundraising tour last month with other Democratic female Senate hopefuls drew more than $900,000 in donations to the girl-powered cause.

Newly released FEC filings show Heitkamp received $32,700 from the fundraising blitz, the fourth-highest amount among the 11 women who participated in the West Coast tour.

The largest beneficiary from the efforts, though, was the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which accepted $402,500 in transfers from the special joint-fundraising committees linked to the tour.

The DSCC sponsored the fundraising trip in early March and is also behind the campaign initiative promoting the Democratic women seeking U.S. Senate seats in 2012.

Heitkamp told The Forum last month she spent a day each in Colorado, Washington state and California with the Democratic coalition “to build support for the historic number of women running for the Senate this year.”

The tour was also promoted by longtime California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and her “Win With Women” initiative.

The fundraising results are reflected in the first-quarter reports for four separate joint-fundraising committees under the branding of “Women on the Road to the Senate.” The four committees reflect the destinations of the tour: Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

Heitkamp was among six of the 11 women who approved all four of the joint-fundraising committees to help support their campaigns.

Here’s a breakdown of the cumulative finances, as reported by the committees this week:

Total raised (Jan. 1 – March 31): $904,500

Cash on hand as of April 1: $43,951

Transfers to authorized committees: $706,400

*denotes sitting U.S. senator

 

The four committees are among six of the same kind that Heitkamp has authorized to raise funds for her 2012 U.S. Senate run.

The other two are the Heitkamp Hirono Victory Committee (a joint fundraising effort planned with the Hawaii Senate hopeful) and Justice 2012 (a PAC spearhead by Hirono, which attracts donations from trial lawyers).

The Heitkamp-Hirono group hasn’t yet raised any funds, but Heitkamp received $68,925 from Justice 2012 in the first quarter, FEC filings show. (Berkley, Hirono and Baldwin also received at least $69,000 from Justice 2012.)

Joint-fundraising committees (or JFCs) operate similar to candidate committees, in that donations count toward an individuals’ contribution limit for the particular candidate. Finances are also reported to the FEC as rigorously as a candidate’s own campaign.

The main difference, though: Instead of benefiting a single candidate’s campaign, JFCs support two or more candidates and contributions are split among the candidates associated with the particular JFC.

The proceeds are reflected in candidates’ quarterly finance reports as “transfers from authorized committees.”

Heitkamp’s fundraising trip with national Dems reflects potential for dual-image in U.S. Senate bid

Heidi Heitkamp

FARGO – Depending on whether she’s at home or away on the campaign trail, North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp may have to strike two different tones.

The distinction wouldn’t be necessarily what the Senate hopeful says – but how she says it.

Political analysts say that’s not unusual for Democratic candidates seeking to sway the conservative voting bloc in a die-hard red state, like North Dakota.

Here in the state, Heitkamp has presented herself as a moderate, independent voice – willing to buck the Democratic Party in order to do what she believes is best for her state, such as by disagreeing with national party leaders in her support of the Keystone XL pipeline.

But outside of North Dakota, a different image of Heitkamp may emerge: A more outspoken voice that doesn’t shy away from standing up for controversial social policies and, inherently, aligns herself with the national Democratic Party establishment.

A recent trip Heitkamp took with prominent Senate Democrats showcases this contrast – foreshadowing the challenges Heitkamp will likely face in her campaign and the different audiences she’ll have to tailor her message for.

Heitkamp disputes the contrast exists, maintaining she’s been “very consistent” on the issues.

However, the apparent contradiction isn’t lost on political analysts like Jim Danielson, a retired political science professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

“It has to do with the kinds of issues she wants to put front and center at the state level versus nationally,” Danielson said, adding that the Heitkamp’s apparent dual image isn’t without precedent.

It’s the same line Democratic veterans Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan and Earl Pomeroy had to toe when they represented North Dakota together in Congress for nearly 20 years, he said.

“They took positions on national issues that probably weren’t broadly approved of in the state of North Dakota,” Danielson said, “but their main focus in visits back home were issues that had to with things supported in the North Dakota culture. That’s not atypical for political appearances.”

Mark Jendrysik, political science professor at the University of North Dakota, said Heitkamp’s campaign is “clearly trying to position her as a more conservative Democrat” but a more-Democratic message out of the state can be expected, since she’s also trying to court fundraising dollars from the party base.

“Republicans do it, too,” Jendrysik said. “It’s not an inconsistency so much as when you fund-raise you have to tell the audience where you stand.”

The recent example was this past month through Heitkamp’s position on a controversial birth control mandate tied to health care reform.

While she’s been relatively quiet on the debate in North Dakota, Heitkamp joined a coalition of high-profile Senate Democrats for fundraisers last week on the West Coast – partially on the premise of being a victory lap for the party.

Heitkamp spent a day each in Colorado, Washington state and California with a coalition of female candidates and sitting senators “to build support for the historic number of women running for the Senate this year.”

The tour was sponsored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, with promotional help from longtime California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and her “Win With Women” initiative.

However, the trip was also re-branded as a “victory tour in the aftermath of Senate Democrats’ recent success in halting further exemptions for the birth control mandate.

In North Dakota, Heitkamp hasn’t made a campaign issue out of that national debate, but she’s answered questions from media and potential voters when asked.

The mandate, as part of the health care reform package two years ago, requires insurance companies to cover preventive health services for women, including birth control. Heitkamp told The Forum she supports the mandate but she also agrees that only religious groups should be exempt.

Out of state though, Heitkamp has taken a more active stance on the issue as part of this coalition of Democratic women running for the U.S. Senate.

Along with the recent out-of-state tour, Heitkamp has appeared in a DSCC web ad and a Facebook ad blitz, which asks users to sign a petition on Heitkamp’s campaign website and asks them to “stand with Heidi Heitkamp in protecting women’s rights. Tell Congress to stop their assault on women’s health.”

Heitkamp said she hasn’t been inconsistent in her message.

“It wasn’t like we tried to hide the (DSCC) ad,” Heitkamp said, adding that she plans to play the ad for state Democrats at their nominating convention this weekend. “We’ve responded when anyone has asked about the contraception issue. … We’re not running away from it in the state.”

Heitkamp’s campaign spokesman Brandon Lorenz said the recent West Coast trip was unrelated to the national birth control debate, because “the trip was actually planned well in advance before that became a significant issue in the news.”

Heitkamp also said the contraception issue was barely mentioned during the trip. Each candidate had a chance to discuss issues important to her state, and Heitkamp said she answered “a lot of questions about fracking,” in reference to North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

The tour included participation from all 11 women seeking U.S. Senate seats this year, who – besides Heitkamp – are: Maria Cantwell of Washington, Dianne Feinstein of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, as well as Democratic challengers Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Shelley Berkley of Nevada and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

That coalition of women presents a broad mix of Democratic views.

Some, like Heitkamp, have forged a more middle-of-the-road path in politics, aiming to attract the center base of voters.

Others represent the far-left of the Democratic spectrum. Gillibrand and Feinstein – along with Boxer – rank as among the most liberal U.S. senators in office, according to a recent analysis of voting records by the National Journal. Baldwin, a sitting congresswoman, also ranks as among the most liberal in the U.S. House.

Heitkamp’s campaign downplayed the liberal-leaning nature of the group, emphasizing the tour’s purpose to promote Democratic women seeking Senate seats this year. Some, like Heitkamp, would be the first female senators from their states, if elected.

“There were a lot of candidates and senators who were a part of the trip,” Lorenz said. “Heidi agrees with some and disagrees with others. Her focus is on doing what’s right for North Dakota.”

When asked how her recent out-of-state fundraising trip played in to that message, Lorenz responded, “All of the candidates raise money in state and out of state; it’s part of the campaign.”

But, Lorenz noted, Heitkamp has spent more time campaigning in North Dakota than she has elsewhere.

“Heidi was in Fargo last week talking to voters there,” he added. “She will certainly continue to travel around the state as she campaigns.”

In the end, it all comes back to the target audience of the day.

Jendrysik said Heitkamp doesn’t have any reason to be vocal in North Dakota about the birth control mandate because “the people who are wound up about this are probably not going to vote for her anyway.” In contrast, national party donors want to know she’ll stand with the party, he said.

Meanwhile, though, national Republicans said Heitkamp’s Democratic trip is a sign of her hidden allegiance to President Obama and the unpopular health care reform legislation she lobbied for two years ago.

“The facts speak for themselves – Heidi Heitkamp supports Obamacare, supports the president’s attack on our personal freedoms and she went on a fundraising tour with some of Congress’ most liberal members in order to help keep Harry Reid majority leader of the Senate,” said Lance Trover, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “The voters of North Dakota should take note that while she will run a campaign claiming to be a moderate, if she were to get to Washington she would simply be another solid vote for President Obama and his far left agenda.”

Heitkamp’s likely opponent in the Senate race, Republican Rep. Rick Berg, echoed similar sentiments.

“Instead of pretending North Dakotans won’t notice this sleight of hand, Heidi should come home and come clean about her praise for President Obama and Obamacare, which 70 percent of North Dakotans did not support,” Berg spokesman Chris Van Guilder said.

Heitkamp joins DSCC ad targeting ‘GOP’s war on women’

Heidi Heitkamp

FARGO – North Dakota Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp is appearing in a new internet ad campaign this week that jumps on to the birth control mandate issue by urging voters to elect women to the U.S. Senate.

Heitkamp’s presence, while minimal, is significant, in that it publicly aligns her for the first time with national Democrats on the heated debate over religious freedom and government control of health care.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unveiled the ad Wednesday. In the 75-second pitch, the Democrats edit a series of news clips together to make the pitch that Republicans have declared a “war on women.”

The ad highlights North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg among seven GOP Senate candidates who support legislation that would give employers and insurers more leeway in denying coverage for birth control based on religious reasons.

“It’s an assault on women’s health and freedom, and Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate all across the country are pushing extreme legislation that threatens health care for women,” the ad says. “It’s time to end the culture wars and get to work for the middle class. It’s time to elect more women to the U.S. Senate.”

Heidi’s brief appearance in the ad comes as she and 10 other Senate candidates and incumbents – all women – introduce themselves. (The group includes such Senate veterans as California’s Dianne Feinstein, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, who each face re-election this year.)

The ad concludes: “If you don’t like what Republicans are doing, send a women to the Senate. In fact, send them all.”

The ad’s debut Wednesday came in advance of yesterday’s Senate vote on the Blunt Amendment. The provision would’ve allowed employers and insurers to deny health care coverage for any service they found “morally objectionable.” Although the Senate tabled the measure, the House could take up a similar bill in the near future.

As I reported today, Berg and Heitkamp fall along party lines on the issue. Berg supports the proposal, while Heitkamp opposes it.

Heitkamp’s comments to The Forum this week marked the first time she’s publicly declared her support for the health care reform act’s mandate to provide insurance coverage for preventative services, including birth control. However, Heitkamp added that she also agrees that religious groups should be exempt from the requirement.

North Dakota Republicans have criticized her silence for weeks, which came in contrast to her passionate support for health care reform when it was before Congress two years ago. Heitkamp’s silence also contrasted virtually every other major Senate candidate in the country who had declared their position on the birth control mandate.

“Her silence on this issue is very interesting to say the least,” state GOP spokesman Matt Becker said this week. “Either she supports the Obamacare mandate, or she doesn’t, but either way she needs to be held to the standard of someone who wants to represent North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.”

Heitkamp’s spokeswoman Gail Hand called the GOP’s criticism “a ridiculous charge.”

“Heidi has obviously not been silent.  She answered The Forum’s questions on the issue fully and succinctly, and it’s clear where she stands,” Hand said. “The GOP is trying to score some sort of political point, but they’re just plain wrong.”

Democratic-sponsored poll finds Heitkamp ahead in Senate race

Heidi Heitkamp

FARGO – Democrat Heidi Heitkamp reportedly leads Republican Rep. Rick Berg in the first poll of North Dakota’s contested 2012 Senate race.

But that’s not surprising, say Republicans and political observers, since the poll was commissioned by a partisan group motivated to see Heitkamp elected.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a poll earlier this week* that found Heitkamp edging out Berg, 47 percent to 42 percent.

Rick Berg

The DSCC commissioned a D.C. firm to conduct the poll after Heitkamp entered the race this month.

Democrats and their supporters heralded the poll’s results as affirmation of their chances for victory in the 2012 race.

But given the left-leaning origins of the survey, North Dakota Republicans brushed it off, accusing Democrats of “scrambling to put out more polling numbers from another partisan source.”

“This is just another example of how Washington Democrats are trying to alter the realities in this race,” NDGOP spokesman Matt Becker said.

The Mellman Group, which conducted the DSCC’s poll, routinely attracts Democratic clientele, including dozens of members of Congress and various Democratic party groups nationwide.

Mark Mellman, the polling firm’s CEO, said in a statement that Heitkamp “is in a very strong position to win this contest,” based on the poll.

About 600 likely voters were surveyed between Nov. 12 and 16, and the results had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Participants were also asked to weigh in on the favorability, job performance and characteristics of both Berg and Heitkamp.

The poll’s results unanimously went in Heitkamp’s favor and negatively reflected on Berg, according to a breakdown of the results and questions by the Mellman Group.

Conversely to the DSCC poll, though, objective political observers predict a competitive contest that still lies in Berg’s favor.

This month, election prognosticators from Roll Call, The Cook Political Report, The New York Times and others categorize the odds for North Dakota’s race as “leaning Republican.”

Earlier this year, Berg appeared to be a shoe-in for the Senate seat because of a successful underdog campaign in 2010 that ushered him into the U.S. House.

However, Democrats are quickly rallying their efforts behind Heitkamp, the popular former state attorney general.

Heitkamp is widely seen as the Democrats’ best chance to beat Berg and to also keep a seat in the congressional delegation.

Veteran Democrat Kent Conrad is retiring next year, leaving the seat open.

Berg and Heitkamp each face a challenge from within party ranks: Berg from perennial candidate Duane Sand and Heitkamp from Grand Forks pastor Tom Potter. Neither Sand nor Potter was included in the DSCC-Mellman Group poll.

Below is the poll questionnaire and subsequent results, as provided by the DSCC.

DSCC officials declined The Forum’s request to provide a complete breakdown of the statistical results for each question, citing the Mellman Group’s memo as the public source for the results.

  1. FAVORABILITY: Overall, do you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable impression of ____? If you haven’t heard of the person, or if you don’t know enough about that person to have an impression, just say so and we will move on.
    -

    • Results: “Fifty-four percent (54%) view Heitkamp favorably, while only 25% express an unfavorable view, a ratio of more than two to one. By contrast, attitudes toward Berg are decidedly mixed, with nearly as many voters viewing him unfavorably (39%) as see him favorably (42%). Put differently, Heitkamp’s favorables are 12 points higher than Berg’s, while her unfavorables are 14 points lower. The disparity between the two candidates is even more pronounced among independents. While Heitkamp is net favorable among independents by a 43-point margin (59% favorable, 16% unfavorable), Berg is actually viewed unfavorably by a plurality of these swing voters (34% favorable, 41% unfavorable).”
      - The Mellman Group
      -
  2. INITIAL VOTE: If the November 2012 general election for U.S. Senate were held today and the candidates were [ROTATE] __Democratic-NPL candidate Heidi Heitkamp and __Republican Rick Berg, for whom would you vote, or are you undecided? [IF A CANDIDATE IS NAMED, ASK:] Would you say you support (Heitkamp/Berg) strongly or not strongly? [IF UNDECIDED, ASK:] Toward whom do you lean?
    -

    • Results: “Former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp leads Congressman Rick Berg by 5 points in our initial head to head vote (47% Heitkamp, 42% Berg). Heitkamp is able to overcome an 11-point Republican advantage in party identification with strong support from independents, among whom Heitkamp leads by 21 points (51% Heitkamp, 30% Berg). Heitkamp also holds a whopping 38-point lead among self-described moderates (61% Heitkamp, 23% Berg), suggesting that Berg will have difficulty wooing supporters outside of his Tea Party base. Among the 70% of the electorate that knows both candidates, Heitkamp leads by an even wider 52% to 41% margin.”
      - The Mellman Group
      -
  3. JOB PERFORMANCE (Berg): As a public official do you think ____ is doing an excellent job, a good job, only a fair job, or a poor job, or aren’t you sure? If you are not sure how good a job _____ is doing just say so.
    -

    • Results: “Just 28% of North Dakotans offer positive evaluations of Berg’s performance, while twice as many (56%) render negative judgments. Berg’s job performance ratings are especially weak among independents, of whom fewer than one in five give him a positive rating (17% positive, 62% negative).”
      - The Mellman Group
      -
  4. JOB PERFORMANCE (Heitkamp): And what kind of job did Heidi Heitkamp do as Attorney General?
    -

    • Results: “Voters offer strongly positive views of Heitkamp’s tenure as Attorney General (52% positive, 28% negative), with independents giving her particularly high marks (56% positive, 26% negative).”
      - The Mellman Group
      -
  5. CHARACTERISTICS: I am going to read you a list of words and phrases which people use to describe political figures. For each word or phrase, tell me whether you think it describes _____ very well, pretty well, not too well, or not well at all. If you don’t know how well a word or phrase describes _____, just say so and we will go on.
    -

    • Results: “By a 46% to 26% margin (voters say Berg) is too much of a politician, while only 34% say he represents their point of view on the issues or shares their values. While North Dakotans divide evenly on whether Berg cares about people like them, they believe Heitkamp does care about them by a 43-point margin.”
      - The Mellman Group
      -

*Author’s note to readers: I was out of the office between Nov. 17 and Nov. 25 to attend to a personal family matter out of state. I apologize for the delay in publishing this, but I hope you still find this of value and interest. Thank you for your understanding. -Kristen.