Blowout: Heidi Heitkamp now trails by 16 points in North Dakota

Sure, there’s probably some Kavanaugh effect at work here. Plus a little red-state effect.

Plus a little “Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign committed one of the great unforced errors in recent political history” effect.

Either way, it’s ballgame in North Dakota.

In an exclusive poll by KVLY, KFYR and Strategic Research Associates of 650 likely voters in North Dakota conducted between October 12 – 19, 2018, Republican challenger Kevin Cramer leads incumbent Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp 56% to 40%, increasing his lead since Gray Television’s September poll, in which Cramer held a 10-point advantage. Heitkamp’s support appears relatively fixed. Only 5% of those supporting her say that they might change their mind, compared to 17% of Cramer supporters who say they may still change theirs.

Heitkamp is viewed favorably by 37% of North Dakota voters and unfavorably by 52%, with 7% holding a neutral opinion and 4% unfamiliar. That unfavorable number represents a significant increase since September, when only 41% held an unfavorable view of her. Her challenger is viewed favorably by 53% of likely voters (a 7-point increase over September) and unfavorably by 38%, with 5% holding a neutral opinion and 4% unfamiliar with him.

Heitkamp and Joe Manchin essentially made a bet with their contrasting votes on Kavanaugh. Heitkamp’s bet was that voting no, locking down her base, and then trying to scratch and claw another 10 percent from Republican voters was a safer play than Manchin’s strategy of voting yes, pacifying the Republican majority, and risking a cave-in among his own base. You can see how Heitkamp’s gamble paid off. Here’s how Manchin’s is paying:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is now 16 percentage points ahead of his Republican challenger, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. That’s according to a new Gray Television poll released Monday.

In the survey of 650 likely voters in West Virginia, Manchin has 52 percent support, while Morrisey has 36 percent support. In our last Gray TV poll in September, Manchin led Morrsiey by just eight percentage points.

That was the first public poll of West Virginia in a month. A Republican internal poll taken two weeks ago had Morrisey within a single point, which seemed plausible-ish amid a wave of encouraging red-state polls for the GOP. Instead, according to this Gray TV survey, the incumbent had essentially doubled his lead. Manchin’s approach to Kavanaugh and everything else this year, I think, has been “no sudden moves.” He’s a former governor turned senator; his name recognition is virtually universal; he’s proven he can win in WV, repeatedly, even as it’s shifted decisively Republican. The less eventful the election is, the more people will pull the lever for him out of habit. Voting no on Kavanaugh would have made it eventful. As for his base, he figured their anger would pass as they considered how precious a safe Senate seat deep behind enemy lines really is. He figured correctly! And he might have been helped, ironically, by the downturn in Heidi Heitkamp’s own numbers in North Dakota. If you’re a West Virginia Democrat who’s mad at Manchin but suddenly facing the growing possibility of a red wave nationally in the Senate, you’re going to think very carefully about staying home in protest.

And yet the “Kavanaugh effect” thing is too pat. It’s impossible to isolate it in Heitkamp’s case: Her bizarre screw-up in publishing the names of #MeToo victims without their permission has complicated the equation. Her Kavanaugh strategy was designed to lock down her base — and then her campaign turned around and did something that ended up pissing off that same base, especially its female members. Was it Kavanaugh or the #MeToo thing that finished her? And if Kavanaugh is hurting Heitkamp and helping Manchin, why isn’t it doing more for Rick Scott in Florida? Scott’s the sitting governor who’s spent boatloads of money on his race against Bill Nelson for Nelson’s seat, but he’s suddenly facing deficits of five and six points, respectively, in two of the three most recent polls. (He led by a point in the other.) Florida’s a purple state, of course, not blood red like North Dakota or West Virginia, but you might expect a small Kavanaugh effect there too among Republicans. Why didn’t it show up against Nelson? Or did it show up, only to be overwhelmed by a pro-Nelson Kavanaugh effect from Florida Democrats?