BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Sen. Heidi Heitkamp apologized Tuesday for misidentifying victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape who were listed in a recent North Dakota newspaper ad aimed at her opponent.
The Democrat, who is facing a tough race for re-election, said in a statement that she had recently learned that several of the women named in the ad either hadn’t authorized it or are not survivors of abuse.
“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’s statement said.
The ad that ran Sunday in several North Dakota newspapers was an open letter to Kevin Cramer, her Republican opponent, criticizing comments he made on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. It was signed by more than 125 people, though some just listed their initials.
Some women listed in the 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.”
Heitkamp’s campaign did not answer questions Tuesday about how the error occurred, or how many of the people listed in the ad were misidentified.
Cramer called his opponent’s ad a “revictimization of victims.”
“This is what happens when desperate people do things for their own personal political gain,” Cramer told the AP. “She proved a point that her personal politics matter more than someone’s personal pain.”
Cramer supported Kavanaugh. Heitkamp voted against his nomination.
Heitkamp cited Kavanaugh’s temperament in announcing her decision. She also said she believes the woman who accused him of a decades-old sexual assault, which Kavanaugh has denied.
The Heitkamp-Cramer matchup is seen as critical for control of the closely divided Senate.