North Dakota’s Democrat Senator Heidi Heitkamp apologized, Tuesday, for using the names of a group of sex assault victims in a campaign ad without bothering to ask the victims if she could use their names.
“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,” Heitkamp said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.
“This was incompetent. It was wrong. It should have never happened,” Heitkamp told Rob Port, a conservative blogger and frequent Heitkamp critic on his radio talk show Tuesday. “It was a very flagrant error of the campaign and I own it.”
The flap over the newspaper ad comes at a sensitive time for Heitkamp, who has been trying to explain to voters why she opposed confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The vote has emboldened Republican challenger Kevin Cramer in his effort to label the incumbent as too liberal for the conservative state.
Heitkamp, who was clearly emotional on the talk show, apologized several times for the ad, which she said she hadn’t seen before publication. She said she was reaching out to those affected by it but would understand if they didn’t want to talk to her.
The ads ran in several newspapers in the state as an open letter to Heitkamp’s Republican opponent, Kevin Cramer.
The Senator said that she would look into the chain of events that led to her staffers issuing the campaign ad and noted that some of the names of those used without their permission may have come through Facebook contacts with the campaign.
Several women listed in ad criticized Heitkamp on social media for listing their names.
Lexi Zhorela told The Associated Press that she learned of the ad Monday night
“I’m furious,” the 24-year-old hairdresser and single mother from Bismarck said. “I know I’m not the only woman hurt by this.”
Zhorela said she was listed in the ad because she had been tagged by a friend in a Facebook post who knew she had been the victim of sexual assault.
“I have only shared my story with a couple of people in confidence,” she said. “I didn’t want it blasted for the world to see.”
Zhorela said she had intended to vote for Heitkamp in November but will “definitely not now.”
For his part, Cramer was quick to insist that Heitkamp had victimized the women all over again by outing them publicly as victims of abuse without their consent.
Heitkamp is locked in a very tough re-election campaign and has been trailing her GOP challenger for months, now. A recent Fox News poll found Cramer up 9 percentage points with Heitkamp stuck at 41 percent. Traditionally, if a sitting politician gets under 52 percent in pre-election polling they are assumed to be in major trouble.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.
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