Sometimes It Seems Like Rick Berg Is Trying To Make People Not Like Him
Rep. Rick Berg is in an enviable position this election cycle. In his campaign to move up to the Senate he’s facing Heidi Heitkamp, an outspoken proponent of Obamacare which, according to a poll conducted earlier this month, 64% of North Dakotans want repealed. Heitkamp is also a supporter of President Obama who is extremely unpopular in North Dakota, currently polling at just 36% who she has said, on the record, that she’ll vote for again in 2012.
Heitkamp is perceived, thanks to her endorsements of Obama and Obamacare as well as her regular participation in her brother’s statewide talk radio show, as being pretty far to the left of the electorate and the polls reflect it. Real Clear Politics’ average of the polling in the race shows Berg with a 5 point lead, and the latest polling from Rasmussen shows that lead 9 points.
But if Berg has a weakness, it’s that he’s just not as likable as Heitkamp. Where Heitkamp is gregarious and engaging, if a lot more liberal than the average North Dakota voter, Berg comes off as plastic and calculating. I mean this as no personal insult to Berg, who I’ve always found to be pleasant in person, but it’s an observation I’ve heard dozens of Republicans in the state make. It’s not an opinion I’m alone in.
This is a weakness Berg needs to shore up. Unfortunately, he seems incapable of helping himself in that regard. During his primary campaign against Republican challenger Duane Sand, Berg was challenged by the Fargo Forum editorial board as to why he wouldn’t debate Duane Sand, and Berg bombed with his answers (awkward, painful-to-watch video here).
Flash forward to the general election. Heitkamp is challenging Berg to seven debates. To be fair, Berg shouldn’t agree to all of those debates. One is on Heitkamp’s brother’s radio show, and the other would be hosted by an energy group that has held a fundraiser for Heitkamp. There’s no reason for Berg to walk into the lion’s den in some of these debates, but there’s also no reason for him to give such lame answers to questions about when and where he’ll be debating Heitkamp.
Heitkamp had challenged Berg in June to accept at least seven opportunities to debate before Election Day.
She’s so far accepted five invitations to debate Berg, but the pair has only agreed on one event.
In a meeting with The Forum’s editorial board on Monday, Berg confirmed he’d accepted two invitations but he wouldn’t specify how many total debates he’d like to have against Heitkamp before Nov. 6.
“I’ll leave that up to the campaigns to figure out,” Berg said, referring to scheduling. “Whatever fits in and works.”
A spokesman for Berg’s campaign says they’ll be finalizing the debate schedule in the coming weeks, but that spokesman has been saying the same thing for weeks now.
There is always a lot of incentive for the underdog in a race to challenge the front runner to whole bunch of debates, and politically speaking there are a lot of reasons why the front runner should limit the engagements. After all, the underdog has everything to win while the front runner has noting to gain.
But if the front runner is perceived as hiding from the challenger, and being unwilling to engage in the democratic process, refusing to debate can backfire. Especially for candidates, like Berg, who are somewhat lacking in the charisma department.
And, all politics aside, the candidates should engage each other. These campaigns should be something more than a war of television ads, newspaper quotes and snarky Twitter/Facebook posts. The candidates should debate, and they should debate more than a couple of times.
Berg needs to display a little more respect for the process.Tags: election 2012, Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota News, Rick Berg