I'm here in New York, and pretty much all I know about Heidi Heitkamp's U.S. Senate campaign in North Dakota comes from this Gail Collins column, but I can't help noticing that she seems more willing to nationalizing her race, and more willing to confront the GOP head-on, than Democrats in much bluer parts of the country.
First of all, she's decided not to run away from the health care law. Admittedly, her biography gives her a way to respond to attacks that's not available to most other Democrats:
She ... has a dramatic story that centers on the year 2000, when she ran for governor and was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, but she stayed in the race, campaigning even while she had chemotherapy and her trademark red hair fell out. She lost but seems to have made an indelible imprint on the public....Perfect. Now, here's the ad. Yeah, she says that the health care law needs adjustments. But she's solid and unswerving on not wanting to "go back":
As soon as the North Dakota Senate race began, Republican super PACs began beating Heitkamp with the health care mallet. "Heidi endorsed Obamacare," says one much-aired ad that features a very brief tape of Heitkamp saying, with no apparent enthusiasm, "It actually is a budget saver." In response, she almost always brings the discussion back to her own story. Her next ad began with Heitkamp discussing her bout with cancer and adding, "When you live through that, political attack ads seem silly."
"I have a pretty well-known pre-existing condition," she says dryly.
Yes, for her that last line has a double meaning -- go back to the days before the law and go back to her time with cancer. But if you're a Democrat who hasn't experienced a health crisis like this personally, don't you know people who have? Friends? Relatives? Constituents? Talk about it. Make it real.
Heitkamp also doesn't seem ashamed to say she's voting for her party's presidential candidate, even in a state where he'll lose:
... Heitkamp says she'll be voting for Obama in November -- because Mitt Romney supports the House Republican budget.According to a new poll, she has a 6-point lead, in a state where Obama trails by 19.
"People ask me why, and I point to that budget," she says.
... Heitkamp is betting that the House budget, with its Medicare restructuring and dramatic program cuts will seem even more radical to the emotionally conservative North Dakotans than the stimulus or health care law. "There's $180 billion in farm cuts in there," she said, launching into a litany of government aid it would strip away from North Dakota.
Yeah, she slammed Obama a couple of months ago, saying he "failed in the one test America had for him, which was to unite the country." That's nasty. But I'm still giving her points for slamming the GOP agenda. Republicans nationalize every election. Democrats need to do the same. The national Republican agenda will be horrible for everyone, and everyone could grasp that. But Democrats need to say it. (Are you listening, Elizabeth Warren?)