Heidi Heitkamp

Party: Democrat
State: North Dakota
What you need to know: Heitkamp is remembered more than two-to-one positively for her job as State Attorney General.

Democrat - Open Seat
Endorsed for U.S. Senate by Council for a Livable World

While many political pros had been ready to concede to the Republicans the North Dakota seat of retiring Senator Kent Conrad (D), in fact Heidi Heitkamp’s (D) race has the potential to be one of the great sleeper victories of 2012. Democrats have an excellent candidate who has run and won statewide three times and who remains a popular figure in the state.

The Washington Post recently reported that: “Given [the 2010 elections results] and the state’s conservative lean in a presidential year. . . it was considered something short of a given that the GOP would win the open seat contest in November."

The Post explained the changed state of play: two recent polls, one by an independent pollster and one by the state Democratic Party, showed a dead heat between Heitkamp and Republican nominee Rep. Rick Berg in the contest, despite strong leads by Mitt Romney for President and the GOP candidate for the House of Representatives.

As a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Heitkamp stands for sensible foreign policy and endorses withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan and the reset of U.S. relations with Russia.

The Post reported: “The polling right now seems to reflect Heitkamp’s statewide name ID and Berg’s early image problems.”

Heidi Heitkamp grew up in North Dakota and served as State Tax Commissioner and State Attorney General, both elected positions. In each of those contests, she won over 60% of the vote and voters still rate her very favorably.

Heitkamp is remembered more than two-to-one positively for her job as State Attorney General, and has high favorability ratings. As attorney general, she was a leader in the national settlement with the tobacco companies that required them to pay restitution to the states.

By contrast, a poll by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman in November found that the personal and job performance ratings for Republican nominee Rick Berg are quite low. Mellman’s poll found Berg’s job performance was rated 28 percent positive to 56 percent negative and personal ratings were 42 percent favorable to 39 percent unfavorable.

If some of the pundits have been slow to recognize political realities in North Dakota, right-wing Super PACs American Crossroads and the American Future Fund have acknowledged the challenge by running anti-Heitkamp television advertisements in June trying to tie the challenger to President Obama.

Heitkamp has responded with her own ad: "I’m Heidi Heitkamp and 12 years ago, I beat breast cancer. When you live through that, political attack ads seem silly. I would never vote to take away a senior’s health care or limit anyone’s care."

Heidi Heitkamp grew up in modest circumstances in North Dakota and is one of seven children. When she was young, she worked for the Equal Rights Amendment and became very interested in the environment. She graduated from Lewis and Clark School of Law in Oregon, which has a special focus on the environment.

Heitkamp became an environmental attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency, but left when Ronald Reagan became President. She realized in stark terms that who is elected makes a real difference. She returned home and began to work for Kent Conrad, who was then state tax commissioner in North Dakota.

At the age of 28, she lost her first election in a close race to become N.D. Auditor. When Conrad ran for the Senate, Heitkamp stepped up to serve as State Tax Commissioner. Two years later she ran for the office and won. She was a popular two-term attorney general, but lost her quest to become North Dakota’s governor in 2000. The contest was close, but she was handicapped when two months before the election she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, which has long been in remission.

As a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Heitkamp 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.

Heitkamp’s race will be difficult. Only two years ago North Dakota had an entirely Democratic congressional delegation. In 2010, the state elected Republicans as Senator and the state’s sole House member. Republicans now hold all statewide offices elected by party and both chambers of the state legislature. The presidential election is not expected to be competitive in the state. But Heitkamp is a great campaigner and personally popular with independents and Republicans as well as with Democrats.

Heitkamp needs your fundraising help. While she raised more campaign money than Berg in the last fundraising period, her total fundraising thus far is $1.7 million compared to $3.2 million for Berg, and she has half as much money in her campaign treasury.

Heidi Heitkamp is in the strong progressive tradition of North Dakota Democrats. Her mentor has been Senator Kent Conrad, and she will be his worthy successor.

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Council for a Livable World
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