Republicans in North Dakota shook their collective heads after Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign ran an ad in local newspapers naming sexual assault and domestic abuse victims without their consent in an open letter to her opponent — and, in some cases, listed names of women who said they have never been sexually mistreated.
“This is what happens when desperate people do things for their own personal political gain,” Rep. Kevin Cramer, the GOP nominee challenging Heitkamp, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “She proved a point that her personal politics matter more than someone’s personal pain.”
The ad was an open letter signed by supposed sexual and domestic assault victims to Cramer criticizing him for some controversial remarks he made during the confirmation process of new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Cramer had called an allegation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh by California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford “absurd,” and said that even if the accusation were true, it should not disqualify him because the alleged event occurred when Kavanaugh and Ford were both drunk and in high school.
In a Tuesday interview with a local conservative blogger on his talk radio show, Heitkamp apologized profusely for the ad, which she said she did not see before it was published Sunday in multiple North Dakota newspapers.
“This was incompetent. It was wrong. It should have never happened,” Heitkamp said. “It was a very flagrant error of the campaign and I own it.”
Her campaign is trying to determine how the concept and execution of the ad wended its way to the top of her campaign, Heitkamp said.
One of the women listed on the ad, Lexi Zhorela, told the AP she was “furious” about her inclusion.
“I know I’m not the only woman hurt by this,” Zhorela, a 24-year-old hairdresser in the North Dakota capital of Bismarck, said. “I have only shared my story with a couple of people in confidence. … I didn’t want it blasted for the world to see.”
Zhorela added that she had been planning to vote for Heitkamp in the upcoming Nov. 6 midterm election. But she will “definitely not now.”
Heitkamp is one of 10 Democratic senators running for re-election in states President Donald Trump won.