There was no doubt the U.S. Senate race between Democrat incumbent Heidi Heitkamp and Republican challenger Kevin Cramer was going to get nasty. With Republicans holding a narrow 51-49 majority and Heitkamp the only Democrat holding a statewide office in deep-red North Dakota, the national GOP has targeted her as particularly vulnerable.
But getting nasty six months before Election Day? Before all the snow has melted in North Dakota? Before the day when we’re required to pay our taxes?
Not sure anybody saw it getting this gnarly this fast.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC whose stated goal is “to protect and expand the Republican Senate majority,” released a 15-second video ad hitting Heitkamp over the recent attacks in Syria — and using images of children killed and injured in chemical attacks.
The ad, titled “Dead Wrong,” shows a clip of Heitkamp saying the U.S. has to trust “Russia’s intent” in a 2013 agreement that was meant to strip Syria of chemical weapons. Heitkamp’s image is side-by-side with video of Syrian children killed and injured by chemical weapons. Syrian opposition forces say the government of President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons Saturday on Douma, a rebel-held town, killing at least 40 people.
The shots of the children make for a nasty, nasty visual.
Heitkamp’s campaign immediately denounced the ad in a press release, calling it “unacceptable” and “a new, shameful low.” The campaign called for Cramer to condemn the ad and demand it be taken down.
“Kevin Cramer and (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell have stooped to a new, shameful low — using dying Syrian children as pawns in a political attack ad. This is disgusting and not how we do things in North Dakota,” the campaign said. “Cramer said he’d focus on the issues and run a positive campaign — but instead, he’s running a campaign straight from Mitch McConnell’s playbook. Cramer should condemn this disgusting, misleading ad and demand it be taken down.”
By law, neither Cramer nor Heitkamp can coordinate with outside groups like the Senate Leadership Fund so Cramer did not have control over the ad. But a press release sent by Heitkamp’s campaign included a link from an interview Cramer did on a Grand Forks radio station in which the Congressman said if his side ran an ad that was “distasteful or outrageous,” he “absolutely will speak out.”
Whether Cramer or his campaign defines the ad as “distasteful or outrageous” is up for debate. Cramer’s deputy communications director Jake Blum promoted the ad on Twitter, referring to it as “hard-hitting” and linking the YouTube version of it. It appeared later that Blum deleted the tweet.
Heitkamp’s campaign says the brief snippet of a TV interview she did following the 2013 agreement was taken out of context. It says a longer version of the interview shows the Senator saying that Russia’s words weren’t enough, but that they needed to see action.
It’s expected the Heitkamp-Cramer race will be the most expensive campaign in North Dakota history and, according to former Grand Forks Herald publisher Mike Jacobs, might be the most expensive political campaign in U.S. history on a cost-per-vote basis.
With the entire country watching this critical race, it’s sure to make a lot of “firsts.”
Give the Republicans the nod on this first: It was the first party to go hard-core negative, first with a video spot using a body-double of Heitkamp and now with an ad using bodies of dead and injured Syrian children to make a point.
And it’s not even April 15 yet. The election is Nov. 6.