Heitkamp Issues Apology After Campaign Publishes Names Of Victims Without Their Consent In Ad

The North Dakota Democrat faces grim odds of retaining her Senate seat, according to the most recent polling data.

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota).
Bryan Bedder / Getty Images

The North Dakota Democrat faces grim odds of retaining her Senate seat, according to the most recent polling data.

A number of women have stepped forward this week, alleging that a recent newspaper ad by the campaign of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) wrongly placed their names in an open letter to her Republican opponent. The open letter inaccurately, or without authorization, listed said individuals as victims of sexual abuse and assault.

Lexi Zhorela — one of the women who was identified by name in the ad — explained that she was “furious” at the advertisement for having used her name. The single mother said that she had shared her story of abuse “in confidence” and “didn’t want it blasted for the world to see,” according to reporting from the Star Tribune.

Heitkamp’s use of her name in the ad will likely affect her vote, Zhorela said. She had planned on voting for the Democratic incumbent before, but “definitely not now,” she added.

The campaign advertisement, appearing as an open letter to her Republican opponent Kevin Cramer, seeks to highlight how women in the state may not have appreciated his comments in support of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The open letter was signed — or initialed — by 125 North Dakota women. They were portrayed in the letter as being victims of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault.

Heitkamp released a statement on Tuesday expressing her regret for issuing the ad without express permission from all signatories featured in the campaign materials.

“I deeply regret this mistake and we are in the process of issuing a retraction, personally apologizing to each of the people impacted by this and taking the necessary steps to ensure this never happens again,” the statement from Heitkamp’s camp read.

The mistake couldn’t come at a worse time for the senator’s campaign. Heitkamp — a Democratic official in a Trump-won state — is currently sitting behind her Republican opponent in most polls conducted. She is currently behind by 10 points in the most recent Fox News poll from earlier this month. The polling site FiveThirtyEight projects, as of right now, that Heitkamp has only a 1-in-3 chance of winning re-election in November.

The election is also critical for Democrats overall, who are hoping against slim odds to capture control of the Senate in this year’s midterm elections. Doing so would be incredibly difficult if they lost this seat in North Dakota.

Her opponent was quick to jump on the faux-pas. Cramer suggested that the ad was a “revictimization of the victims” who were listed in it without their consent.

“This is what happens when desperate people do things for their own personal political gain,” he said, according to reporting from St. Louis Today. “She proved a point that her personal politics matter more than someone’s personal pain.”