I think it’s true that Rick Berg is winning, and will win, North Dakota’s Senate seat this election. I think even Heidi Heitkamp and the Democrats know that, which is why the campaign ads and public statements have become increasingly shrill of late (I even think it’s a symptom for why Heidi’s brother felt he needed to personally insult me earlier this week). They’re angry because they don’t feel like they’re winning this race.
But I think it’s also true that Berg is underperforming. He’s up against a Democrat who hasn’t won an election in North Dakota in the 1990′s, was an outspoken proponent of a health care reform law which North Dakotans hate, has serious ethical problems and has been spending a lot of time trying to run away from her national party.
Berg should be running away with this race, but he’s not. Like a baseball team with a big lead letting their opponent creep back into the game a few singles and doubles at a time late in the game, Berg is allowing Heitkamp to linger and this interview with Chris Berg may be a big reason why that’s happening:
Part two of the interview is here.
Berg’s responses to the Medicare questions are muddled. His responses to questions about debates seem downright evasive. Public speaking is not Berg’s strong suit, but he needs to be able to articulate to voters why he takes the positions he does. When he doesn’t he leaves a vacuum which Democrats can fill with whatever spin they want.
There are good arguments for the position Berg has taken on Medicare and the debates, but when Berg doesn’t make those arguments (or, at least, doesn’t make them coherently) the public isn’t going to understand them. North Dakota’s electorate is not one to be taken for granted. The state has a long history of splitting the ticket between Democrats and Republicans. I think voters here will be sympathetic to conservative arguments, and the positions Berg has taken, but not if the candidate himself can’t explain them.