A new T.V. spot in one of the country’s hottest Senate races aims to show voters that the guy tough enough to do the job is…the woman already doing it.
In her latest ad, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp—who’s in a serious fight to hang on to her job in November’s election—makes her pitch while casually arm-wrestling a mountain of a man in a muscle shirt.
“Maybe this is how we should decide elections, because it couldn’t get much more ridiculous,” says the Democratic incumbent in the spot, which her campaign shared with Glamour ahead of its official launch.
Heitkamp puts the verbal smackdown on her real-life opponent during the phony arm-wrestling match, telling viewers Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer wants them “to believe that I’m anti-veteran, pro-taxes, and against prosecuting illegal immigrants who commit crimes. Are you kidding me? That’s about as silly and fake as this T.V. ad,” she says.
“I approve this message because I’ve fought every day for North Dakota—and Kevin, I’m just getting warmed up,” Heitkamp closes before slamming the big guy’s arm down on the table.
“Here in North Dakota, we look each other in the eyes and tell the truth—that’s what I learned growing up in Mantador and that’s what I’ve always done as North Dakota’s senator,” Heitkamp told Glamour in an email via her campaign. “But Congressman Cramer apparently doesn’t share those values. I didn’t think it’d come to arm wrestling, but I’ll always fight tooth and nail for North Dakota.”
Republicans would love to replace Heitkamp with one of their own, giving them a stronger hold on the Senate. But recent polls show Heitkamp losing ground to Cramer in North Dakota, a state where Republican President Donald Trump got a whopping 63 percent of the vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 27 percent in 2016.
The latest Cook Political Report analysis calls the race a toss-up in an election that’s seen as a referendum on not just the GOP, but the president himself. Trump endorsed Cramer—whose campaign includes promises to keep cutting taxes and regulations—months ago.
Just Thursday, Heitkamp, North Dakota’s former attorney general, came out against confirming Trump’s controversial Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, potentially riling voters a month out from the November 6 midterms.
“If this were a political decision for me I certainly would be deciding the other way,” Heitkamp told local T.V. station WDAY of her choice to oppose Kavanaugh in a Senate vote that could come in just days.
“History will judge you, but most importantly you will judge yourself, and that is what I am saying: I can’t get up in the morning and look at the life experience I have had and say ‘yes’ to Judge Kavanaugh,” said Heitkamp, who did vote in favor of confirming Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Cramer, by contrast, has called college professor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980’s “even more absurd” than the harassment charges Anita Hill made against then-SCOTUS nominee Clarence Thomas.
“These are teenagers who evidently were drunk, according to her own statement,” Cramer was quoted as saying in a radio interview regarding Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh attacked her at a party when they were in high school. “They were drunk. Nothing evidently happened in it all, even by her own accusation. Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere.”
Kavanaugh has emphatically denied Ford’s allegations.
In a separate T.V. appearance, Cramer also reportedly said even if Ford’s claim’s were true, the judge shouldn’t be out of consideration for a Supreme Court seat just because “he did something really bad 36 years ago.” The congressman did say, however, that he felt Kavanaugh should be disqualified if he lied about the incident under oath, “because that’s what he’s doing today, not 36 years ago.”
Team Heitkamp tells Glamour it’s spending six figures to put the deliberately campy arm-wrestling ad on statewide television and on the web. According to NBC News, the senator is also going to air with another spot that plays up her political independence in the wake of her announcement about opposing Kavanaugh.
Heitkamp’s latest spots join the reel of ads and viral videos, some light-hearted, some personal and serious, put out by female candidates on both sides of the aisle in a cycle that’s seen a historic number of women nominated for Senate, the House, and governor.
However, she’s not the first woman contender to do battle on air with a male adversary: Sharice Davids, a Democratic lawyer running for Congress in Kansas, put out a clip this spring that showed her in the ring in a nod to her time as a pro MMA fighter.
After viewing the spot, the North Dakota GOP appeared unimpressed with Heitkamp’s on-air attack.
“Let’s be clear: Heidi Heitkamp is a liberal Democrat who is now going to spend the rest of the campaign trying to rewrite her record,” North Dakota Republican Party Communications Director Jake Wilkins told Glamour via email.
“Heitkamp was elected to represent the people of North Dakota in the Senate, but she has failed,” Wilkins continued, “and a new TV ad can’t erase that.”
Celeste Katz is senior political reporter for Glamour. Send news tips, questions, and comments to email@example.com.
In a pivotal election year, Glamour is keeping track of the historic number of women running (and voting) in the midterm elections. For more on our latest midterm coverage, visit www.glamour.com/midterms.