ND Senate Debate Audio: Rick Berg Versus Heidi Heitkamp


Below is the full audio from the North Dakota Senate debate between Rick Berg and Heidi Heitkamp. It was an interesting debate for how often the two candidates disagreed. Heitkamp is campaigning way, way to the right of her party (and way to the right of where she was publicly before running for Senate) and only seemed to disagree with Berg in areas where she couldn’t without looking like a total hypocrite (like Obamacare, where she can’t exactly escape her past and well-documented support for the law).

Here are a few notes I jotted down during the debate:

– Heitkamp was introduced as a “former EPA lawyer,” a part of her resume you aren’t likely to find in any of her campaign literature.

– I got a chuckle when Heitkamp hit Berg on Republican spending. In rebutting Berg’s complaints about federal spending, she rightly pointed out that North Dakota state spending has grown every bit as fast (and quite a bit faster by my calculations) than federal spending over the past decade. That’s a tough reality free-spending ND Republicans have to live with.

– At one point Heitkamp made a bizarre attempt to distance herself from Barack Obama saying that when she brushes her teeth she doesn’t “see a tall, African-American skinny man” looking back at her in the mirror. It kind of came out of nowhere, and the way she inserted it in the debate at an odd moment shows just how anxious she is to distance herself from Obama and her national party.

– Heitkamp said she supports a balanced budget amendment, but as I’ve pointed out before (and as she confirms later in the debate) she exempts the most dire areas of federal spending which are entitlements. Heitkamp wants to try and balance only about a third of the budget. That math doesn’t add up.

– Heitamp and Berg went back and forth over Social Security. Berg’s suggest fix for Social Security was kind of ridiculous in its simplicity. He suggested that we grow our economy to increase SS revenues. That…isn’t going to fix anything. Heitkamp’s solution, though, was equally ridiculous. “Don’t privatize it.” Um, yeah.

– There were some foreign policy questions which neither candidate really seemed prepared for. Perhaps the most interesting part of this was the part about going to war without Congress. Heitkamp tried to suggest that Bush went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan without Congress (patently untrue) but Berg pointed out that Obama went to war in Libya without Congress.

– Heitkamp endorsed Sarah Palin’s “drill baby drill” mantra saying, “That’s the way we need to do it.” She was vocal in her support for the Keystone pipeline and fossil fuel energy production in general, but Berg was quick to point out that this puts her at odds with President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid both of whom Heitkamp has pledged her continue support to.

– Berg missed a real opportunity on a question about hydraulic fracturing. Given that fracking is vital to ND’s oil boom neither candidate was going to come out against it, but Berg could have brought up the fact that Heitkamp’s campaign has taken big money from anti-fracking trial lawyers, undermining her statements.

– The final blows were thrown over Obamacare. Heitkamp brought up her new-found reservations about the law, which didn’t exist until she decided to run for the Senate, and hit the ND legislature for refusing to implement health care exchanges. Berg pointed out that the exchanges have nothing to do with state control and re-iterated his commitment to repealing the law.

Bottom line: It’s clear Heidi Heitkamp has a lot to be defensive about. Her past support for Obamacare. Her move to the left since she last won an election in North Dakota back in the 1990’s. The increasingly leftward cant of her national party and leaders she supports like Barack Obama and Harry Reid. So she compensates for that with a good offense, attacking Berg’s record instead of defending her own. And what she’s got going for her is that Berg isn’t always very good at defense.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • headward

    “Promote voter registration”
    North Dakota doesn’t have any voter registration.

  • NDSuperman

    I know hindsight is 20/20, but I really thought that Berg left some low hanging fruit. He could have said something like, “Wow…lower taxes and fewer regulations? It seems Heidi would like to join the Republican party. The next thing you know, she’ll be pro-life. I don’t think North Dakotans believe you.” or something like that. And I agree with you that he should have smacked her with the anti-fracking dollars and EPA lawyer stuff.
    I think the best thing Berg said was, “You know, I’m not a professional debater.” I think a lot of North Dakotans can relate to that…or, maybe I’m wrong and my fellow statesmen will consider that a negative on Berg, but I don’t think so.
    I did hear a number of times when Heidi said, “I will have to agree with the Congressmen on this.”

    • robertfrost

      I looked at the professional debater line as a concession, not a win. You should never acknowledge your compared weaknesses during a debate.
      His best line was “We need to change the Senate”, in regard to the number of problems that are happening with the passage of bills, particularly the budget.
      Did anyone notice Charlie Johnson “lobbying” for democrats early, when he said, (not verbatim), “It’s likely each party will have one house” of Congress? From the latest numbers I saw, the Senate was definitely at play for the Republicans, and the GOP is the clear favorite in the house.

      • NDSuperman

        Yeah, I could see how many people might think the same as you on that. It was something about the context that I found him to be inferring that Heitkamp was a professional debater, and I think tying her to that might play well. It’s like he was saying, “she’s a talker and I’m a doer.”

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I did think he missed a bit opportunity on the fracking thing. Heitkamp is taking money from anti-fracking lawyers. His campaign knows it. That was the perfect time to hit her for some ripe hypocrisy.

  • jamermorrow

    I keep hearing Republicans say if we grow the economy we can keep spending where it is and fund SS and Medicare. News Flash: The economy will not grow if the government keeps spending this way. Government spending is keeping the artificial consumer based economy going. We need more savings and investment and less spending. The problem with the economy is government spending and regulations. We need to do away with departments, government workers, programs, and reduce taxation. Also, Romney wants to lower the tax rates but eliminate deductions. I don’t care what my rate of taxation is. I care what I actually pay in taxation. I don’t see how Romney’s plan will benefit me or the economy. Why is the goal to maximize government revenue? I want the government to have the least revenue as possible.

    • John Lindquist

      Agree. I would vote enthusiastically for the politician that states that they will do their part to drive real cuts in the size of the federal government. Only an idiot would believe that every fed department is running at peak efficiency and can’t do with less money. Only a socialist–I don’t care if there’s a “D” or an “R” behind your name–would believe that we can’t completely eliminate a significant number of agencies.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Yeah, that bugged me too. Growing the economy won’t fix what ails SS and Medicare.

  • davoarid

    Rick Berg supports imprisoning rape victims who attempt to get abortions. Did that come up in the debate at all? I didn’t see it mentioned above.

    • opinionated

      You sir are a freak… you sir are an idealougue.. you sir are on the wrong soundboard….

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      It’s scientific fact that life begins at conception. This isn’t really all that controversial in North Dakota.

      • Big Cat

        But liberals claim to love and worship science. Like climate science. And other forms of junk science.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Trust me, Heitkamp didn’t want to go there on abortion. Her views are far more out of the mainstream than Berg’s.

      • davoarid

        Most North Dakotans want to imprison rape victims who attempt to get abortions? What an odd state.

  • DakotaStrong

    Hey Rob, nice pic of Heidi! See, you do show both sides. Proud of you for that.

    • opinionated

      Oh is that who that was 20 years ago? I have seen her and she does not remotely look like that. That photo has had more retouching that Joan Rivers… Ya know trying to put out o photo of yourself that is barely recognizable does you no good because when they come to hear you speak they are thinking “man she looks tough today, must be a long campaign”..

  • Big Cat

    The “African-American skinny man” remark is definitely racist. Where’s the NAACP? Where’s Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Where’s the ACLU? Where’s the NCAA? Why isn’t anyone taking Heidi to task? If a conservative had said it, there would be hell to pay.

  • CAFS

    Did you watch the same debate as the rest of us? Rick Berg was definitely devoured by Heidi Heitkamp. His stupidity was embarrassing to watch as was his attempt to hide his ignorance behind yelling a “talking point that was irrelevant to the discussion. Heidi was articulate, explained in detail what she would do, would not do, why she would or would not do something etc. Rick talked in circles with no substance.

  • http://www.themarketingsurvivalist.blogspot.com melissapaulik

    I can see why she might have supported the last BBA that Berg was all supportive of – it did nothing to control spending. That BBA would have almost forced taxes to rise. Thank heavens it did not pass!

  • Dakotacyr

    That was quite the booing Berg received for wanting to privatize Social Security. ND seniors don’t want to see it privatized. They know what will happen if it is.

  • Mark

    Why are none of the television stations in Fargo broadcasting this debate.. Not even PBS.