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Heitkamp, Cramer face off in first debate

Zaleski: 'Tis season of the good, bad and ugly

About the political ad blitz on television. Some good, some not.

Airtime is being sucked up by the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. Independent assessments say it's a close race. It will get closer. The TV ads?

Best spot so far: Heitkamp. It's a low-key coup by former Cass County deputy sheriff and West Fargo police chief Arland Rasmussen.The retired officer all but calls Cramer a liar.

Rasmussen opens with, "I voted for the president," then adds with calm credibility that Cramer "mislead" the president about Heitkamp's support for law enforcement and border security.

Rasmussen cites her record, noting she was a tough law-and-order attorney general. He wraps up with cool, clear-eyed dignity, saying North Dakota needs to keep her in the Senate. Short, sweet, devastating for the Cramer crowd.

In an era of political advertising that idolizes distorted pictures of contenders, misrepresentation of voting records and manipulation of old speeches, the Rasmussen ad is a straight-at-you endorsement by a lawman whose integrity was the hallmark of his career. It's spot on.

Worst spot so far: Cramer. He uses his mother and two kids to assure North Dakotans he won't mess with Medicare. The ad's premise is false. Cramer has always wanted to mess with Medicare—cut benefits, privatize portions of the program, etc. He can't fudge his record, although he is one of the best fudge masters in Washington, D.C.

The ad relies on shrewdly ambiguous weasel-words: He will protect benefits for oldies like his mom (and me) and make sure Medicare is there for younger generations, like the kids in the ad. Sounds great. Notice the distinction? The distortion? He is vague about future Medicare for people currently in the workforce (would he gut benefits?), while he preaches to oldsters who are on the program now, who vote, that he's their Medicare evangelist. It's not blatant deceit; it's duplicitous half-truth.

The fib is bad, but exploitation of mom is worse. She probably wants to help her son. It's what moms do. But in the ad she looks painfully ill at ease. It's uncomfortably obvious she would rather not be at center stage in a phony drama. Unconvincing ad. Kinda creepy.

Dueling Senate campaign ads about veterans win laurels for taking advantage of voters' ignorance about how Congress works. The spots are produced by malignant organizations on the right and left that claim no affiliation with candidates (wink, wink). Both ad campaigns selectively spotlight votes alleged to be anti-veteran. Both claim Heitkamp and Cramer have turned their backs on North Dakota veterans. What twaddle.

The votes cited are procedural, done in committees and subcommittees as a bill is parsed, amended and prepared for votes in the Senate or House. Preliminary votes often are strategies to get something in or out of a bill. The votes are not reflective of a legislator's stance on a final bill. The ads are cynical frauds. Both candidates are reliable supporters of veterans legislation. Write the ads off as a tub of codswallop.

Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as editorial page editor of The Forum. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or (701) 566-3576.

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