North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and her GOP challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer kicked off their final debate ahead of the November midterm Thursday, agreeing on the need for more civility in American politics following the arrest of a pro-Trump bomber earlier in the day.
Hours after federal investigators charged Florida resident Cesar Sayoc with sending dangerous packages to CNN and Democratic leaders who have criticized President Trump, Ms. Hietkamp and Mr. Cramer said no one is to blame other than Sayoc for his actions.
Their harmony comes after critics have accused Mr. Trump of using divisive rhetoric, saying it sparked one of his supporters to terrorize the nation this week.
Ms. Heitkamp recalled Rep. Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, who was shot at and wounded by a left-wing partisan last year, speaking in the aftermath of the attack.
“He never once mentioned Democratic politics,” Ms. Heitkamp said. “Looking at that as an example, the message couldn’t be clearer we all need to quit blaming. There is only one person responsible here,” she said.
But the incumbent senator said everyone should be accountable for their words, and Mr. Cramer, a Trump-ally, agreed.
Mr. Cramer said the use of debates, like the one they held tonight, is an opportunity to celebrate political civility.
“Let’s look to North Dakota as an example,” he said.
The two have been in a fierce race, as Ms. Heitkamp is one of several red state Democrats trying to hold onto her seat in the U.S. Senate this November in a state where Mr. Trump won by 36 points.
But she’s recently seen her poll numbers sink after voting against Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
In a poll released this week, she’s behind Mr. Cramer by 16 points. Prior to her vote against the president’s high court pick, she only trailed Mr. Cramer by four points.
Despite the setback, Ms. Heitkamp’s campaign has received more than $12 million in donations during the first two weeks of October, the majority of which came from individual donors, according to a recent filing with the Federal Elections Commission.
And former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the bomber’s targets earlier this week, is heading to campaign for Ms. Heitkamp, kicking off her statewide tour in Fargo next week.
Despite the high stakes as Republicans look to grow their majority in the Senate, both North Dakota lawmakers greeted each other warmly with an embrace Thursday night. They also yielded one another more time to finish their points throughout the hour-long showdown.
Both called for a border wall and increased security to deter illegal immigrants from entering the country, as thousands of migrants from Central America are heading to the border through a caravan.
“We cannot leave our borders unprotected. The rule of law has to be imposed — if there is 4,000 today, there will be a million tomorrow,” Ms. Heitkamp said, separating herself from many of her Democratic colleagues who have balked at a wall along the southern border.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cramer called for a merit-based immigration system.
“We ought to have something to say about who comes in our country,” he said.
Both lawmakers also saw eye to eye on the Paris Climate Accord, disagreeing with Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement.
But they sparred over the Affordable Care Act and whether to fix the law as it exists, or to repeal and replace it entirely.
Mr. Cramer said money should go to the states, where they can provide better health care options for constituents, while Ms. Heitkamp said not to throw the baby out with the bath water — and instead, fix areas of the healthcare law which aren’t working.
“We cannot play politics with our healthcare,” she said.
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