Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., stopped in Minot Tuesday to defend his preferred successor in a campaign battle over support for Minot Air Force Base.
Conrad joined Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp at a news conference at Dakota Territory Air Museum to discuss donations to Heitkamp's campaign from a Council for a Livable World, which Republicans have called a radical, anti-nuclear organization.
The state Republican Party and its Senate candidate, Congressman Rick Berg, R-N.D., say Heitkamp's solicitation and acceptance of about $32,000 in donations indicate Heitkamp wouldn't support North Dakota's air bases at Minot and Grand Forks.
Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp speaks during a news conference with Sen. Kent Conrad at Dakota Territory Air Museum Tuesday.
"One of the very first votes she's going to have to take in Washington is to defend our defense budget, and her actions are showing that we cannot trust her to do that," said Anna Nix, communications director for the North Dakota Republican Party.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Conrad countered. "I was endorsed by a Council for a Livable World, and I think no one would ever say that I wasn't a staunch defender of the bases at Minot and Grand Forks. I was proud to be part of the team that preserved the bases."
Conrad noted that only three of 16 air bases on the nation's northern tier remain following base closures, and two are in North Dakota.
"I think that speaks to pretty effective representation," he said.
Both Conrad and former Democratic senator Byron Dorgan received campaign funds from the Council for a Livable World.
"All of a sudden that is held up as a reason to be concerned about whether Heidi Heitkamp will fight to keep these bases. It's preposterous. I find it insulting," Conrad said.
"I will stand firm, as Sens. Dorgan and Conrad before me, in support of our air bases," said Heitkamp, who called the charges fraudulent and negative campaigning.
"It needs to stop and the record needs to be set straight," she said.
Conrad said the Council for a Livable World never asked him to take any position that could have harmed the state's air bases. He said he paid little attention to the organization and believes the group supported his candidacy because he stood for common sense defense policy.
On the council's website, it states it supports Heitkamp because she "stands for sensible foreign policy and endorses withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan and the reset of U.S. relations with Russia. She supports ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the goal of securing and retrieving vulnerable nuclear-weapons usable materials worldwide within four years."
Nuclear test ban treaties often have been a dividing issue between Democrats and Republicans.
State Republicans say the council is an anti-defense organization that supports dismantling the nationals' nuclear arsenal, including the missile facilities around Minot, and is lobbying for military budget cuts.
"Heitkamp's claims of independence are fooling no one her financial relationship with this radical organization runs so deep that they are now her second largest source of campaign funding," Nix said. "North Dakotans simply cannot risk having someone like Heidi Heitkamp in the U.S. Senate."
Nix said Heitkamp continues to solicit from the council. The Council for a Livable World sent an email to its members Oct. 29 seeking additional contributions to four congressional campaigns. A note at the end of the appeal indicates that the email was authorized by Heitkamp's campaign and the other three campaigns.