Who expected Sen. Heitkamp to be in this much trouble this early?
Last week Senate incumbent Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign rolled out her first video advertising of the election cycle.
Like many observers, I was surprised to see that it was a rerun. An ad featuring Heitkamp and her family goofing on one another which the campaign used in 2012.
Why would Heitkamp, at the beginning of what is perhaps the most important political campaign of her life, lead with regurgitated political messaging?
One theory I had was Heitkamp’s declining polling numbers. Just a couple of weeks before the re-release of this ad Morning Consult dropped polling which showed the senator’s approval numbers plummeting from 60 percent in July of last year to 47 percent through the end of March.
I don’t think Heitkamp’s campaign was prepared for that news and reacted to it by rushing to put some positive messaging before the electorate as a way to stanch the bleeding.
Yet the blood continues to flow. Updated polling released this week by Morning Consult shows Heitkamp’s approval down to 44 percent, and her disapproval up to 42.
That wasn’t the worst of the news. In this latest polling, conducted February 1 through April 30, Morning Consult asked respondents if the senator deserves re-election.
Shockingly, just 35 percent said yes while 49 percent said it was time for someone new.
Heitkamp defenders could rightly point to the fact that the incumbent was being pitted against a generic opponent with that question. Heitkamp has a very real opponent in U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, but the question didn’t ask respondents to choose between the two, only between Heitkamp and some unnamed other.
Still, that caveat aside, it’s not good for any incumbent to have 49 percent of voters saying they prefer someone else.
It’s hard to see what Heitkamp can do to right this trend.
For instance, the senator voted against the Trump tax cuts and justified that vote by suggesting the reforms wouldn’t truly be beneficial to North Dakotans — except a Brookings Institute study found that North Dakotans would benefit more from the tax reform than the citizens of any other state.
Even Heitkamp’s own campaign staff appears to be enjoying the tax reductions. Federal disclosure reports show several of her staffers enjoyed slight bumps in their pay after the tax reform’s passage in keeping with lower rates of tax withholding.
Heitkamp, who is notoriously allergic to engaging with critics such as myself, didn’t respond to an inquiry I made about this.
The senator and her various mouthpieces have been flogging the risk President Trump’s efforts to renegotiate international trade deals pose for the agriculture industry, but that’s a risky tack. Go too far, and it can seem as though our Democratic friends are rooting for chaos and pain for the sake of political gain.
Nobody should ever make the mistake of underestimating Heidi Heitkamp’s ability to play the political game. Concluding that her defeat is a foregone conclusion at this point would be a mistake. Still, her ship is listing, and righting it looks anything but easy.