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Heidi Heitkamp, Kevin Cramer spar over Brett Kavanaugh, #MeToo in North Dakota Senate debate

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and her challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer squared off Thursday night in their first debate ahead of the midterm election where the #MeToo movement and the contentious confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh dominated much of the conversation.

Ms. Heitkamp, a red state Democrat who is facing an uphill re-election battle in a state President Trump won by 36 points, began by apologizing to a number of women who she mistakenly identified in a newspaper ad, which ran against Mr. Cramer earlier this week after he said the #MeToo movement was a movement toward victimization.

Ms. Heitkamp, who voted against Justice Kavanaugh after sexual misconduct allegations had been lobbed against him, tried to use the ad as a way to show she stands in solidarity with women.

The ad featured the names of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence — the only problem was she did so without their consent. Some of the women her ad listed say they weren’t even victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Others say they don’t support her campaign.

“My parents taught me that if I made a mistake, my obligation was to take responsibility and to try to make things right,” Ms. Heitkamp said in her opening remarks. “I am praying for guidance and forgiveness.”

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 Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

That move was deeply unpopular in pro-Trump North Dakota, where roughly 60 percent of voters backed Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation, according to a poll taken earlier this month.

Shortly after her plea to move forward despite the ad blunder, the candidates were asked if voting the way the majority of North Dakotans want is more important than voting the way he or she believes is right.

“When you are a United States senator, you are elected to exercise your judgment,” Ms. Heitkamp responded. “It’s really important many times to represent your constituency, but it’s equally important to exercise your judgment God gave you.”

But Mr. Cramer, a loyal Trump ally, shot back and said Ms. Heitkamp ignored the Justice Kavanaugh’s judicial qualifications and strong record.

“Being independent isn’t an excuse for being wrong. Judge Kavanaugh is a really good judge,” Mr. Cramer said.

“As far as the hearings, I think the whole world got to see what mob rule would look like, so we are fortunate Judge Kavanaugh was confirmed even without one of our senators voting for him,” he added.

Ms. Heitkamp, who took her seat in the U.S. Senate in 2013, tried to sell herself as someone who can work with both Democrats and Republicans, charging Mr. Cramer won’t be a check on Mr. Trump.

“The future has to be with people who are moderate,” she told voters. “I bring North Dakota common sense and North Dakota compromise to Washington, D.C.”

Mr. Cramer, meanwhile, defended his support for the president, saying the Trump agenda best represents North Dakota’s interests.

“The only thing that matters is how often are you with the people of North Dakota,” he said.

Mr. Cramer leads Ms. Heitkamp by more than eight points, according to the Real Clear Politics average.

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