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.