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Kavanaugh confirmation continues to reverberate in ND

Rep. Kevin Cramer talks about the passing the tax cuts bill while receiving an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018 in Mandan. Cramer criticized the #MeToo movement in an interview with the New York Times this week. John Hageman / Forum News Service 1 / 2
N.D. Senator Heidi Heitkamp answers a question posed by the Grand Forks Herald editorial board on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. Heitkamp criticized her opponents comments about the #MeToo movement this week, calling them "ignorant." Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

BISMARCK — The confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh this weekend continued to reverberate in North Dakota's U.S. Senate race between Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Kevin Cramer Tuesday, Oct. 9.

National reporters descended on North Dakota in recent days after Heitkamp cast a vote against President Donald Trump's U.S. Supreme Court pick, whose confirmation process was roiled by sexual assault allegations. Kavanaugh denied the accusations, but Heitkamp said she believed the woman who testified before a Senate committee and questioned Kavanaugh's temperament.

Republicans have said the Kavanaugh confirmation could fire up their supporters ahead of the Nov. 6 election, and it may be politically costly for Heitkamp in a state that Trump won by 36 percentage points. She released a newspaper op-ed Tuesday in a multi-fronted effort to explain her vote.

"They're more ramped up than I thought," Cramer said of supporters. "We've had people with Heidi Heitkamp signs ask for mine."

Cramer, meanwhile, took aim at the #MeToo movement in a New York Times interview published Monday and said women in his family "cannot understand this movement toward victimization."

"They are pioneers of the prairie," Cramer added, according to the Times. "These are tough people whose grandparents were tough and great-grandparents were tough."

Heitkamp provided a forceful response that invoked her own mother's experience. She told the Times her mother, who died earlier this year, had been sexually assaulted as a teenager and it didn't make her "less strong."

In a Forum News Service interview Tuesday, Heitkamp said she alerted family members after relaying her mother's story, saying it "just kind of came out." She said Cramer's comments, among several that have grabbed national headlines in recent months, show he's "ignorant of what happens to victims and somebody who is hyperpartisan at all costs."

"I think that the one thing that North Dakotans take pride in is that their elected officials are respected and respectful and I think that someone who makes headlines for saying things that are not in keeping with North Dakota values may not be qualified to serve and represent our state in Washington," Heitkamp said.

Cramer, in a Forum News Service interview Tuesday night, dismissed Heitkamp's response as a sign she's becoming "unhinged," but said her mother's story was "unfortunate." He said his comments were meant to highlight instances of the #MeToo movement being "weaponized ... for political purposes at the expense of victims" and later decried an "abuse of identity politics."

Cramer said he's sensitive to violence against women, noting that his adopted son watched his stepfather murder his mother.

How the Kavanaugh confirmation will affect voters next month remains to be seen, but conversations with several people at Bismarck's Kirkwood Mall Monday showed varying responses to the contentious process.

Vernice Brossart, a Cramer voter from Rugby, N.D., said people didn't like how Democrats handled the Kavanaugh confirmation and predicted Heitkamp's vote would be her undoing.

But Gary Larson, an undecided voter from Garrison, N.D., said it showed "character" to oppose Trump's Supreme Court pick.

"I think she was sincere," he said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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