Politico reporter Dave Catanese is uniquely situated to cover North Dakota’s Senate campaign. After all, before going national, Catanese worked as a reporter in North Dakota, which is why his profile of the race between Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Rick Berg is perhaps the best that’s been written about the race.
For one, he captures the crux of the problem for Rick Berg, summed up by former Governor Ed Schafer:
He said the Berg campaign rested on its laurels and had a false sense of inevitability in the early months of the campaign.
“I don’t think the Berg campaign has been strong enough in pointing out to voters the fallacy as it relates to her supposed middle-of-the-road positions. I’d like to see a stronger response,” Schafer told POLITICO. “They came out of 2010 and assumed ‘I’m the giant killer, I beat this nine-term incumbent [Earl Pomeroy], Heidi’s been out of the game. They had this giant killer mentality that ‘we’ll just do it again’ and that caught up to them.”
That’s very candid, and spot on.
The rest of Catanese’s article dwells on Heitkamp’s “charm offensive” and “likability.” It’s true that Heitkamp is certainly a charmer, but it’s worth remembering what that charm is covering up. Consider this, also from Catanese’s article:
Heitkamp bristles at questions about the race potentially deciding which party wins the Senate.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about control of anything, other than representation of North Dakota,” she said. “Everybody makes a big deal out of control of the Senate. Right now, you need 60 votes. No one controls the Senate. That’s a huge problem. No one controls the Senate now because nothing gets done.
At the heart of that bit of cognitive dissonance is the fact that Heitkamp needs North Dakota voters to forget that she’s on the record as another vote for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama.
This is why Heitkamp said she doesn’t care about her party’s platform. This is why she says continued Democrat control of the Senate doesn’t matter. Heck, this is why Heitkamp doesn’t even really like the label “Democrat,” saying in interviews that she fancies herself more of an “independent.”
Heitkamp needs her personality, her likability, to eclipse the issues. That’s why there’s all this focus on her “charms” even as she runs an ugly negative campaign aimed at convincing voters to hate Rick Berg.
That’s what Heitkamp needs. She needs voters to forget the issues and like her more than Berg. For Heitkamp, it has to be about personality. Because if this race is about the issues she loses.