After winning an upset victory over Republican Rick Berg, liberal Senate-elect Heidi Heitkamp and her supporters are gloating, and the state’s media seems to be buying in.
But cutting through that dense cloud of smug self-congratulation is a simple fact: Heidi Heitkamp didn’t win by convincing voters to support so much as she won by convincing people not to vote for Rick Berg. I wrote back during the campaign that Heitkmap’s strategy boiled down to making people forget the issues and hate Rick Berg, and judging by the voting numbers she was more successful in doing that than convincing voters to support her.
Heidi Heitkamp got fewer votes than every other winner in a partisan race on the ballot. She even got fewer votes – more than 4,000 fewer – than Public Service Commissioner-elect Randy Christmann, who had the second-lowest total number of votes among victors (though he still won by a strong 11-point margin).
No offense to Christmann or the PSC – he’s a fine candidate elected to an important office – but shouldn’t the next Senator representing the state of North Dakota in Washington DC have gotten more votes than a Public Service Commission candidate?
You’d think. But again, this was a race to the bottom.
Heitkamp got roughly 27,000 fewer votes in North Dakota than Mitt Romney. She got roughly 15,000 fewer votes than Representative-elect Kevin Cramer. She got 19,000 fewer votes than Governor Jack Dalrymple. Even State Auditor Bob Peterson, who won a race few voters paid much attention to, got roughly 18,000 more votes than Heitkamp.
What Heitkamp won on election day wasn’t a mandate. She won an ugly, vicious campaign that wasn’t about inspiring support for her so much as it was about demonizing her opponent.
The silver lining in that for Demcorats is that Heitkamp will now have six years to help North Dakotans forget that.