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Commentary: Heitkamp's political party is out to destroy Kavanaugh and her campaign is collateral damage

MINOT, N.D.—According to polling commissioned by North Dakota NBC news affiliates and released this week, Congressman Kevin Cramer is leading incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp by 10 points, 51 to 41 percent with 8 percent undecided.

I've long felt Cramer is winning. The last publicly released poll showing Heitkamp with a lead happened in late February. Since then a half dozen public opinion polls have shown Cramer with a small but consistent lead.

Polling showing Cramer up 10 points surprised me. When I asked the Cramer campaign how they felt about that number, they told me their internal polling has "been there for a while," but then they would say that wouldn't they?

Stipulating for a moment this polling, commissioned independently by the news media, is an accurate representation of where the Senate race is at right now, what could explain this sudden shift from a small lead for Cramer in multiple polls conducted previously to a very large lead for Cramer just weeks before the election?

In a word, Kavanaugh.

In addition to the Senate race, the NBC News poll asked its sample of likely North Dakota voters which issues they felt were most important in this race.

A whopping 21 percent of respondents said the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. Coming in a distant second place was health care at 13 percent.

Also, 60 percent of poll respondents said they want Kavanaugh confirmed.

That's remarkable, and if true it's the stuff of nightmares for Heitkamp.

The Kavanaugh vote was always going to be a tough one for the incumbent, but the way her political party has handled their hate campaign against the Supreme Court nominee has turned it into an issue which could kill her re-election chances.

North Dakota's base of Democratic voters are used to accepting Heitkamp's election-year shifts to the right as the sort of pragmatism a liberal candidate needs to get elected in a state like North Dakota. But how likely are they to look the other way when Heitkamp votes for someone their political party has branded an angry, drunken, sexual predator?

On the other side of that coin, while Heitkamp works very hard to distance herself from her national party in election years, can she get far enough away to avoid taking collateral damage from Republicans angry over the Democratic handling of Kavanaugh?

This most recent polling would seem to indicate she cannot.

But again, this is just one poll. Perhaps Kavanaugh will get his vote later this week. Maybe he'll be confirmed. Maybe Heitkamp will even vote for him. The importance of Kavanaugh to North Dakota voters could fade very quickly, to the point of irrelevance by Election Day.

In there here and now, though, the Kavanaugh controversy and the way Democrats are handling it is clearly hurting Heitkamp, and it could even cost her the election.

Rob Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort and listen on WDAY AM 970.