Heidi Heitkamp, the first-term Democratic senator from North Dakota, lost her reelection bid to Republican challenger Kevin Cramer — a defeat considered a direct result of her vote against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Heitkamp, a moderate Democrat in a solidly Republican state — who won her seat by fewer than 3,000 votes, or a single percentage point, in 2012 — had the toughest reelection fight in the Senate in the midterms. The race was already tight at the end of the summer, as Cramer, closely allied with Donald Trump, portrayed Heitkamp as too liberal for North Dakota. Trump won the state by 36 points in 2016.
Then came the Kavanaugh hearings. Heitkamp voted against his confirmation, an unpopular decision with her conservative, anti-abortion constituency. She had been prepared to vote for him, she said, but in a campaign ad defending her change of heart she explained that his demeanor during his hearings had led her to question his “temperament, honesty and impartiality.”
That decision made her very popular outside of North Dakota, and she saw a $13.2 million donation windfall in the days following the vote — almost completely from nonresidents. Within the state, however, Cramer’s margin against her opened to double digits.
Heitkamp was also hurt when an ad that aimed to explain her vote named victims of sexual abuse — without their permission, some said — and she was forced to publicly apologize.
The loss of her seat is pivotal to the fight for the Senate, as Democrats seek to limit the size of the Republican majority.
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