Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota issued an apology on Tuesday for an ad her campaign ran that incorrectly identified victims of sexual abuse, throwing her uphill re-election bid further off balance just three weeks before the midterms.
Ms. Heitkamp, one of the Democrats’ most endangered incumbents, ran a newspaper ad criticizing comments her Republican opponent, Representative Kevin Cramer, made about victims of sexual misconduct. The ad, which was made to look like an open letter to Mr. Cramer, included the names of more than 120 women.
After the ad ran, however, several women took to social media to say they had not given permission for Ms. Heitkamp’s campaign to use their names.
“We recently discovered that several of the women’s names who were provided to us did not authorize their names to be shared or were not survivors of abuse,” Ms. Heitkamp said in a statement on Tuesday.
She added: “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.”
In an interview with Rob Port, a conservative blogger and talk radio host, Ms. Heitkamp, sounding emotional at times, said her campaign got the names through advocates who work with victims, but that she takes responsibility. “This is a very flagrant error of the campaign, and I own it,” she said.
The mistake could hardly have come at a worse time for Ms. Heitkamp. One of a handful of Democratic Senators running for re-election in a state President Trump carried in 2016, she already faced a tough battle to defend her seat. But the bitter fight over Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation — Ms. Heitkamp voted against it — has nationalized the Senate elections in a way many embattled Democrats had been trying to avoid, and provided an avenue of attack for Mr. Cramer.
The uproar over Ms. Heitkamp’s ad illustrates one reason.
“This is what happens when desperate people do things for their own personal political gain,” Mr. Cramer told The Associated Press. “She proved a point that her personal politics matter more than someone’s personal pain.”
In the ad, Ms. Heitkamp’s campaign denounced comments Mr. Cramer made earlier this month in an interview with The New York Times, during which he invoked his wife, daughters, mother and mother-in-law and suggested that the #MeToo movement was “a movement toward victimization.”
When Ms. Heitkamp was told about Mr. Cramer’s remarks during an interview at a Scandinavian festival, she reacted angrily.
“I think it’s wonderful that his wife has never had an experience, and good for her, and it’s wonderful his mom hasn’t,” she said. “My mom did. And I think it affected my mom her whole life. And it didn’t make her less strong.”