Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is trying to recover from her vote against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee by standing up for victims of sexual assault, but the North Dakota Democrat’s efforts backfired Tuesday when she had to apologize for identifying victims without their permission in a recent campaign ad.
Some of the women her ad identified say they weren’t even victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Others say they don’t support her campaign.
Ms. Heitkamp admitted the bungle in a statement Tuesday, blaming victim advocates for feeding her wrong information.
“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,” she said.
It was yet another stumble for Ms. Heitkamp, who has seen her poll numbers tank as she sided with national Democratic leaders in voting against Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
That move was deeply unpopular in pro-Trump North Dakota, and Ms. Heitkamp had tried to regain her footing by casting her opposition as an attempt to show solidarity with women who had accused Justice Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in his youth.
Her ad, which ran in papers in the state over the weekend, was an open letter to her GOP opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer, listing 127 names of women who the Heitkamp campaign said were assault victims and who were disappointed in Mr. Cramer’s support of Justice Kavanaugh.
“We are here to let you know that we have all suffered from domestic violence, sexual assault or rape — and that yes, we expect somebody to believe us when we say it. Because it happened,” the open letter to Mr. Cramer reads.
But Eve Lancaster, one of the women named in the ad, rejected it.
“To whom ever decided it was ok to put my name in this ‘open letter’ for the Bismarck Tribune and possibly other newspapers for this Heitkamp campaign for sexual harassment, I am DISGUSTED. I did not give any sort of permission for you to put my name in this. I’m FURIOUS,” she posted on Facebook on Monday evening.
Ms. Lancaster said she expects the issue to hurt Ms. Heitkamp in the election.
“The fact that she didn’t get our consent to put our names in that paper — and where we live, every person on that list has their hometown on it — I personally feel like that’s dangerous,” Ms. Lancaster told The Washington Times.
She added it’s “hypocritical for them in a way, they are talking about non-consent when they didn’t get our consent.”
Kady Miller, who is also listed on the letter, piggybacked on Ms. Lancaster’s Facebook post, saying she didn’t know why her name was used.
“I never commented about anything to do with domestic violence and I don’t even support Heidi Heitkamp!!” she posted.
The North Dakota GOP said roughly a dozen women have come forward complaining about their names being listed.
“This is another example of Heidi Heitkamp exploiting whoever she can for political gain,” said Jake Wilkins, communications director for the North Dakota Republican Party.
For pollsters, much of Ms. Heitkamp’s troubles can be traced to her voting in line with Democratic leaders in Washington — and that includes opposing Justice Kavanaugh, even as voters told pollsters they wanted her to support him.
But Mark Jendrysik, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota, doubted she will suffer much because of her vote, and said she overcame a large polling deficit in her 2012 election to emerge victorious.
“It’s important to recognize that polling in North Dakota is notoriously unreliable,” Mr. Jendrysik said.