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Commentary: Critics cry shut up, but my criticism on senator is sound

columnist Rob Port

MINOT, N.D.—Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and her network of operatives and supporters are out to make me Public Enemy No. 1.

The problem is that the senator's approval numbers are tanking ahead of what promises to be the most vigorously contested election of her life.

The solution, it seems, is to paint yours truly as a big, bad bully who just won't leave poor Heitkamp alone.

Remember, this is a U.S. senator we're talking about. As one of just 100 members of that legislative chamber, she is one of the most powerful political figures in the country. She has a war chest stuffed with millions in donations which funds, among other things, a campaign staff eager to mau-mau anyone critical of their candidate.

Lately, though, Heitkamp has taken the posture of a victim in the face of criticism from me. Her staffers, who never bother to respond to my requests for comment or interviews, routinely contact my bosses encouraging them to shut me up. The state's opinion pages frequently feature letters to the editor from Democratic operatives whinging on about a supposed "obsession" with the senator.

Even my colleague, Mike McFeely, is doing his part for Heitkamp under the guise of promoting professional standards. In a recent column he was floating the scurrilous idea that I might be paid off by Republicans. He claims that a political commentator like me writing a lot about a candidate in what promises to be the biggest political brawl in state history is somehow unbecoming of someone in our profession.

There's a simple explanation for why all of this is happening: My criticism of Heitkamp is sound.

It's resonating with the public.

It's become inconvenient to Heitkamp's efforts to get herself re-elected.

Thus, it must be removed. Or diminished.

Hilariously, there seems to be little concern from my critics about the senator's brother operating a Fargo-based radio station as a de facto campaign headquarters. When Joel Heitkamp was riding herd on Heitkamp's opponent in 2012—former Republican Congressman Rick Berg—there were no complaints from our friends on the left.

The hypocrisy is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

You'll notice that the bulk of the criticism of my coverage of North Dakota's U.S. Senate race is not focused on what I'm writing. There are few rebuttals offered for the points I'm making. Rather, we are being treated to tantrums from people who are upset that I'm writing anything at all.

I dislike dedicating a column like this to some food fight with a bunch of politicos and campaign operatives, but I felt I owed you, the audience, a rebuttal to the smear campaign against me.

I choose topics because they matter. My critics want me to shut up because they know those topics matter.

One truth I've learned in 15 years of writing about politics is that you usually get the most flak when you're over the target.

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

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