Video: Heitkamp And Berg Debate
In 2010 I felt the turning point of the House race between Rick Berg and nine-term incumbent Congressman Earl Pomeroy was the Prairie Public television debate between them. Berg, who to that point hadn’t really established himself as a strong candidate, came across as cool and collected in contrast to a clearly rattled Pomeroy. That debate, I believe, convinced a lot of North Dakotans that Berg could win. And he did go on to take the race by 10 points.
Tonight’s Prairie Public debate between Democrat Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp and Rick Berg (taped earlier but released this evening) is that same sort of pivotal moment, I think. Not in such a dramatic fashion as 2010, but still important in that it showed an energetic Berg exposing just how tissue-thin much of Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign ploys are.
Berg has suffered a lot from the perception that he hasn’t engaged Heitkamp as energetically as he should have. For the most part, I think that’s fair criticism. I think Berg, who will admit to you that he’s not always that comfortable as a campaigner, proved tonight that it’s a mistake for him not to engage Heitkamp more. When face to face with her, he comports himself well.
Here’s the video:
Heidi Heitkamp talked about wanting to “fight the outside money,” yet her campaign has been bolstered by millions of dollars in outside political spending including, according to OpenSecrets.org, some $362,275 in “outside spending” by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Majority PAC this very week.
Heitkamp also said, “let’s get money out of politics,” but she has amended her original statement of candidacy filing five times since she entered the race authorizing no fewer than nine different campaign fundraising committees, six of which are such obvious shells intended to obfuscate her fundraising that they all share the same address. That’s pretty strange for someone who claims to want “money out of politics.”
On the farm bill, Heitkamp attacked Berg and Republicans for “gridlock” on the farm bill, skirting entirely the fact that the hold up in the house was Democrat refusals to accept cuts to non-farm programs embedded in the farm bill. Heitkamp’s overall message on the farm bill was utterly confused. She accused Berg of “no effort” on the farm bill immediately after admitting that he’d signed the discharge petition, along with 40 Democrats, to bring the farm bill to the floor.
That sounds suspiciously like Heitkamp playing the very sort of partisan games she claimed earlier in the debate to dislike.
Toward the end of the farm bill exchanges Berg brought up the fact that it’s hard to do a farm bill when the Democrat-controlled Senate won’t pass a budget. Heitkamp’s response? She dodged it entirely.
On health care Heitkamp was quick to dodge any mention of her support for Obamacare, but instead said that one of the solutions for spiraling health care costs (specifically Medicare costs) was for the government to promote healthier lifestyles. Which is a little scary. She essentially seems to be saying that the government ought to control more of our lifestyle choices to make us healthier.
One of the most dramatic points of the debate came during a specific question on Obamacare. Heitkamp was quick to give very narrow expressions of support for specific parts of the law, and accused Rick Berg of voting as a state legislator against a resolution supporting an earlier iteration of the so-called “Frontier Amendment” which increases Medicare reimbursements in rural states. Berg, surprising Heitkamp a bit, indicated that he’d voted against one version of that resolution in favor of a better version then pulled out the paper to prove it while making a point against Heitkamp’s misleading campaign tactics.
Berg made a terrific point, too, in pointing out Heitkamp’s narrow justifications for supporting Obamacare. He pointed out that the aspects Heitkamp claims support for represent just 10 pages of a 2,700 page bill. Heitkamp responded by accusing Berg of political sloganeering that “plays well” with voters.
You know why it might play well voters, Heidi? Because North Dakotans hate Obamacare.
On energy, Heitkamp tried to cast herself as oil friendly calling for more infarstructure spending in the western part of the state. That’s all well and good, but she’s talking about that spending coming from the federal level rather than the state. Given all the strings that come tied to federal money, and the hostility of federal Democrats to oil development generally, is that really something we want?
Heitkamp also accused Berg of not doing enough in the state legislature to build up western infrastructure, but Berg hasn’t been in a legislative session since 2009, well before anyone knew what the scope of the Bakken boom was good. But Heitkamp, ever the vicious politician, isn’t afraid to make pompous declarations with perfect 20/20 hindsight.
In her closing statement Heitkamp said she’s running to “put partisanship aside.” That was a strange thing for her to say both because of her partisan finger-pointing earlier in the debate and because, over the weekend, her campaign sent out a fundraising email from Senator Kristen Gillibrand (an anti-energy politician who has opposed the Keystone pipeline) calling for support for Heitkamp so that “Democrats can maintain control of the Senate.”
Methinks this “I’m not partisan” stuff is just something Heitkamp made up for the campaign trail.
Heitkamp also claims that she doesn’t care what Harry Reid thinks about oil and gas. That’s funny because a) she said she’ll vote to keep him as Senate Majority Leader and b) he’s contributed millions to his campaign both in direct contributions and in independent spending on ads attacking Berg. I don’t think he’d do that to elect someone who doesn’t care what he thinks on energy policy.
All in all this was a strong performance for Berg. Heitkamp has demanded more debates from Berg, and he’s been reluctant to agree. Clearly, he should have agreed to more, as he contrasts well with Heitkamp.Tags: Earl Pomeroy, election 2012, Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota News, prairie public television, Rick Berg