Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate

Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate
Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (D-N.D.) and Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerSenators highlight threat from invasive species Overnight Defense: Top general wasn't consulted on Syria withdrawal | Senate passes bill breaking with Trump on Syria | What to watch for in State of the Union | US, South Korea reach deal on troop costs GOP senators think Trump would win vote on emergency declaration MORE (R-N.D.) are set to go toe-to-toe in the first debate of their North Dakota Senate race. 
 
The debate on Thursday comes at a pivotal time for Heitkamp's reelection campaign. She has seen her polling numbers fall in recent weeks and is fending off criticism after her campaign incorrectly identified several victims of sexual abuse in a newspaper ad.
 
Cramer has gained momentum in the wake of a bitter partisan fight over the confirmation of Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSmollett saga shows it's no mistake when media target conservatives Supreme Court clamps down on 'excessive fines' by states The 10 GOP senators who may break with Trump on emergency MORE to the Supreme Court, but he's also come under fire for comments he made about the sexual misconduct allegations surrounding the judge.
 
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Follow The Hill's live coverage of the North Dakota Senate debate set to start at 8 p.m. ET.
 
That's a wrap

9:07 p.m.

Heitkamp and Cramer closed out a heated debate, with each making a final pitch to North Dakota voters. 

"I bring North Dakota common sense and North Dakota compromise to Washington, D.C. which they need more of," Heitkamp said. "They don’t need another person to vote with one side 100 percent of the time. They need people who are going to work across the aisle to get the job done."

"I will talk about the tough issues," Cramer said. "I don’t pretend that they’re going to solve themselves."
 
 
Heitkamp, Cramer slam Kavanaugh confirmation process
 
8:59 p.m.

Heitkamp railed against the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, saying that it reflected poorly on the Senate. 

"It did not look good and was not good," she said. "What we need to do is we need to make sure that our Judiciary Committee is conducting itself appropriately and fairly."

"This process created a scene in Washington, D.C. and across the country that was inappropriate, it was unseemly and it was not becoming of either the Senate or the Supreme Court."

Cramer placed blame for the partisan fight over Kavanaugh squarely on Democrats, claiming that "the process was hijacked by a mob."
 
Cramer touts support for border wall
 
8:57 p.m.
 
Cramer said he strongly defended Trump's proposed border wall along the southern border, saying it was necessary along with a slew of border enforcement measures such as aerial patrolling, while warning a "caravan (of migrants) is coming as we speak."
 
Heitkamp sought to defend her previous support for a comprehensive reform bill. She also emphasized that she saw border security as a law enforcement issue as a former attorney general. 
 
Heitkamp, Cramer discuss #MeToo
 
8:55 p.m.
 
Cramer said that lawmakers and average citizens alike needed to band together to create a culture in which women could feel comfortable coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. But he also decried "political movements" surrounding such allegations.
 
"What we can’t have are these big movements that become political movements that undercut the integrity of the goal," Cramer said.
 
He also proposed hiring more female police officers as a way to encourage victims of sexual assault and harassment to come forward. 
 
Heitkamp said that lawmakers needed to start taking concrete actions to ensure that victims of sexual assault and harassment feel safe coming forward. 
 
"It is time for us to quit talking across party lines and start working together to develop a world where women feel safe, where children feel safe, where we all can accept and believe that we cannot tolerate this kind of behavior," she said.
 
Heitkamp and Cramer go back and forth on energy
 
8:44 p.m.

Heitkamp and Cramer both called for proposals to keep the U.S. coal industry viable, but disagreed on exactly how to do that.

In an exchange, Heitkamp touted her work on carbon capture and sequestration as a way to reduce carbon emissions. Cramer, however, argued that Democrats, like former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein Obama4 ways Hillary looms over the 2020 race Obama goes viral after sporting black bomber jacket with '44' on sleeve at basketball game Obama attends UNC-Duke basketball game MORE, had tried to quash the coal industry. 

"We have coal, we have oil, we have opportunity and we have the innovators right here," he said.
 
Candidates clash over voter ID laws
 
8:40 p.m.
 
Cramer sought to defend the Supreme Court's refusal earlier this month to toss out an appeals court order that allows North Dakota to enforce its voter ID requirement during the 2018 elections.
 
"The integrity of the ballot box is precious," he said, seeking to defend a new state law that requires voters to present identification that includes a current residential street address.
 
A group of Native American residents have challenged the law arguing the new rule disenfranchises a disproportionate share of the population because many Native American voters live on reservations without standard addresses.  
 
Heitkamp said "that's not how we do things in North Dakota," saying Native Americans "deserve" an opportunity to exercise their vote. 
 
Cramer shot back saying that "we are one of the easiest state in which to vote."
 
Heitkamp and Cramer agree: Don't privatize the Postal Service
 
8:35 p.m.
 
Heitkamp and Cramer haven't found a lot of common ground in tonight's debate. But they agreed on one thing: opposing privatization the U.S. Postal Service.

"If you want to eliminate any kind of service standard for rural America, then you privatize the post office," Heitkamp said, noting that she has worked with Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFive takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight Winners and losers in the border security deal MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, on Postal Service reforms.

"We all want a good Post Office," Cramer said. "I don’t support privatization."

Trump has floated the idea of privatizing the U.S. Postal Service amid concerns about the agency's finances.
 
Heitkamp defends vote on Kavanaugh
 
8:27 p.m.
 
Sen. Heitkamp defended her vote to oppose the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, while acknowledging it went against public support for his elevation.
 
“I will tell you this: when you are a U.S. senator you are elected to exercise your judgement,” while also noting: "I can't make a decision based on public opinion polls"
 
She noted that with Supreme Court nominees "there's no do-overs" and no legislation that can be passed to "fix it." 
 
But Cramer went on the attack, saying: "Being independent is no excuse for being wrong."
 
He went on to call Kavanaugh "a really good justice" who was "strong" on the Second Amendment and on rolling back EPA regulations.

Cramer also said the world got to see what "mob rule" looks like during the partisan hearings.

 
Candidates spar over Mueller probe
 
8:25 p.m.
 
Heitkamp defended special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, arguing that the probe is necessary to prevent future foreign interference in the American democratic process. 

"Robert Mueller has a job to do and that job is to find out what happened so we can prevent this from happening again," Heitkamp said.

Cramer said he has "some" faith in Mueller, but called into question the team of investigators that he has assembled. He also called for the probe to come to a swift conclusion.

"I’ve never felt like the Mueller investigation or the investigation into the role of Russia’s interference was ever rigged," Cramer said. "I too have some faith in Robert Mueller. I have less faith in the team he has assembled."

"This needs to wrap up," he added. "This isn’t brain surgery."
 
Heitkamp seeks to attack Cramer over pre-existing conditions
 
8:18 p.m.
 
Heitkamp sought to attack Cramer about trying to repeal pre-existing conditions, a popular line of attack for Democrats this campaign cycle.
 
But Cramer sought to fend off the attack, saying he had been "unambiguous" in seeking to protect that, while criticizing ObamaCare.
 
Heitkamp and Cramer spar over tariffs
 
8:15 p.m.

The candidates exchanged barbs over President Trump's trade war, with Heitkamp decrying tariffs on agricultural products and Cramer defending the president's efforts.

"From the very beginning, I could see that these tariffs were going to have a very dramatic and negative affect on North Dakota farmers," Heitkamp said, she called herself the "chief bitcher" about the tariffs. 
 
Cramer said that he has an obligation to stand behind Trump's decision to impose tariffs on Chinese products, even if it results in retaliatory trade measures on U.S. goods.

"When our president picks the tools he’s going to use, I think we’re obligated to stand with the United states of America," Cramer said
 
Heitkamp addresses newspaper ad controversy right off the bat
 
8:07 p.m.
 
Heitkamp opened the debate by addressing a newspaper ad run by her campaign that incorrectly identified victims of sexual abuse. 
 
"I always want to be a senator that North Dakota can be proud of," she said in her opening remarks. "Unfortunately this week I not only disappointed many North Dakotans, I disappointed myself."

"I can only say this is a terrible mistake and the last thing I would ever want to do would be to cause trauma for any victim of violence," she added. "My parents taught me that if I made a mistake my obligation was to take responsibility and to try to make things right."
 
Heitkamp has also previously apologized for the ad. She said Wednesday that a campaign staffer who had been involved with it had left the campaign.