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Democratic Sen. Heitkamp Says She'll Vote 'No' On Kavanaugh


The full Senate vote on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination, likely over the weekend. One previously undecided senator, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, says she is a no vote. Her announcement came yesterday. And it comes as Heitkamp is fighting for re-election in North Dakota, a red state that President Trump carried easily in 2016. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Fargo.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The question has been asked and asked, again and again. What will Senator Heitkamp do? Turn on the local news any morning or evening in recent weeks, and you'd likely see an ad paid for by a conservative outside group pressuring Heitkamp.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #1: Now Senator Heitkamp has a choice. Stand with President Trump, Judge Kavanaugh and all who thought this was a national disgrace, or stand with them. Tell Heidi Heitkamp you'll never forget how she votes.

GONYEA: But on the same stations, Heitkamp's advertising stuck to other issues, such as this one on tariffs and the president's trade policies. The ad mentions her opponent in the Senate race, Congressman Kevin Cramer.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #2: China is canceling their contracts to buy soybeans. North Dakota is losing hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of business. But when you ask Kevin Cramer why he supports the trade war, he criticizes farmers.

GONYEA: Two new polls this week show Heitkamp losing ground and trailing Cramer by some 10 points, and one poll put support for Kavanaugh's confirmation at 60 percent in the state. Amid all of this came Heitkamp's surprise announcement yesterday. She appeared on WDAY TV in Fargo and stunned many with both her timing and what she said, that she will oppose the nomination. She said it's not a political decision.


HEIDI HEITKAMP: You know, there's an old saying. History will judge you, but most importantly, you'll judge yourself. And that's really what I'm saying. I can't get up in the morning and look at the life experience that I've had and say yes to judge Kavanaugh.

GONYEA: Heitkamp cited concerns about Kavanaugh's past conduct and said his appearance at last week's hearing raised questions about his, quote, "temperament, honesty and impartiality." At a Democratic campaign office in Fargo yesterday, volunteers were working the phone banks unaware that the announcement was happening.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hello. May I speak to Patty, please? We're calling to check to see...

GONYEA: But word spread quickly. Seventy-eight-year-old Lynda Day was stunned.

LYNDA DAY: I am so proud of her. I am so proud of her.

GONYEA: I can see you're emotional. Just...

DAY: Yeah. That was hard for her.

GONYEA: Day said Heitkamp may lose some votes because of it.

DAY: She might. And, you know, maybe she won't pay a price. I'm hoping that she doesn't.

GONYEA: But Judge Kavanaugh's backers here say this will make it harder for Heitkamp to portray herself as a moderate voice in her party. Sixty-seven-year-old Penny Kramer runs a small business with her husband in the town of Portland. She's no relation to Kevin Cramer, Heitkamp's opponent.

PENNY KRAMER: I was astounded today to hear that Heidi was a no vote on Kavanaugh. I think that will be the straw that breaks the camel's back with undecided voters.

GONYEA: Kramer says she's an independent who actually voted for Heitkamp six years ago, but says she wants a senator who'll be more supportive of President Trump and less in line with the national Democratic Party. Heitkamp, meanwhile, is known as a skilled campaigner. She has a month to make her case to North Dakota voters. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Fargo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.