Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse, sexual assault victims

Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse, sexual assault victims
© Greg Nash

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes MORE (D-N.D.) apologized for misidentifying some women as victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or rape in a recent ad.

Heitkamp said in a statement that some of the women listed in the ad, which had been aimed at his opponent, had not given their permission to be listed or were not victims.

"Sexual assault is a serious crime – and one that too many North Dakota women have experienced," Heitkamp's statement read.

"In an attempt to bring awareness to this issue and push back against dismissive comments toward sexual assault survivors by Kevin CramerKevin John CramerBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw Lawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding MORE, our campaign worked with victim advocates to identify women who would be willing to sign the letter or share their story." 

"We recently discovered that several of the women's names who were provided to us did not authorize their names to be shared or were not survivors of abuse," she said.

"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."

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The ad was an open letter to her opponent in the race for her Senate seat, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), and had meant to criticize statements he made recently regarding the confirmation of Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughClash with Trump marks latest break with GOP leaders for Justin Amash ACLU, Women's March to hold nationwide protests over abortion bans Warren calls for Congress to pass federal laws protecting Roe v. Wade MORE

Heitkamp voted against Kavanaugh's nomination, while Cramer supported the now Justice.  

The North Dakota Republican Party slammed Heitkamp for the mistake.

"This is another example of Heidi Heitkamp exploiting whoever she can for political gain," the party's Communications Director Jake Wilkins told The Hill Tuesday.

"With a campaign built on lies, misinformation, and manufactured controversy, it’s no wonder Heitkamp is the most vulnerable Senator in the country."

Heitkamp is considered to be among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the Senate, with Cramer leading in the polls  by an average of 8.7 points, according to RealClearPolitics.

One of the women who was listed without her authorization, Lexi Zhorela, told The Associated Press that she was furious after she learned of the ad.

“I know I’m not the only woman hurt by this,” Zholera said. "I have only shared my story with a couple of people in confidence. I didn't want it blasted for the world to see."

Zhorela added that she will no longer be voting for Heitkamp, who she previously planned to support in the November midterms.

Cramer referred to the ad as a "revictimization of victims" in a statement to the Associated Press.

“This is what happens when desperate people do things for their own personal political gain,” Cramer told the news agency. “She proved a point that her personal politics matter more than someone’s personal pain.”