WASHINGTON -- A North Dakota Republican businessman is so committed to making sure Democrat Heidi Heitkamp doesn't make it to the U.S. Senate that he has used his own money to run an attack ad on the radio. While that's unusual, it's the nickname that he gives the candidate in the spot that is raising some eyebrows in the state.
Kent French, manager of Liechty Homes in North Dakota, is a local GOP activist and donor. A couple of weeks ago, a radio ad began airing against Heitkamp, who is running for an open Senate seat against Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.). The ad's narrator says at the end that it was paid for by French. Below is a transcript (emphasis added):
Attention North Dakotans! Let's get behind Obama and support Obamacare and throw the senior citizens off the cliff…
That’s what a vote for Heidi Heitkamp would do. She wants to support Obama. Cutting the military; bankruptcy; Obamacare; and cut funding for needed for senior citizens.
A vote for her would be a vote for Obama socialism.
Barack-o, Heidi-ho, I don’t think so.
Save the North Dakota senior citizens.
Disclaimer: Paid for by Kent French
On Tuesday, KFGO, a talk radio station in North Dakota, asked French about his decision to attach the word "Ho" to Heitkamp's name, asking if he meant to use it "in the popular 2012 vernacular" (i.e., as slang for "prostitute").
"It is something that rhymes, so that when people in North Dakota hear the ad, it will catch on. It’s nothing more than that," French replied. "But I'm sorry and would apologize [to anyone] that would think different than that. Anybody that knows me knows that I wouldn't think any different than that."
The KFGO host pushed back, saying it's not just about what French intended but how the term is perceived. "It's about how it’s presented and the fact is that ho is slang for prostitute," said the host.
French then blamed the media for distorting his ad.
"No, it's about how the media and you are going to talk about it because you have a different kind of slant on it," he said. "If you knew me -- that's the farthest from the truth. I want people in North Dakota to know that, and I'm glad that you brought that up. If in fact that's what people think -- but I really don’t think that people think that, and I would never do that in a million years."
According to Valley News in North Dakota, French's ad is going to be running at least through May. Heitkamp Campaign Manager Tessa Gould didn't buy French's explanation.
"I just think that's laughable," she told Valley News. "I think that this is the kind of language that is made to incite heated rhetoric, and that's exactly what it does. ... I'm not an expert on rhyming, but I can sure think of some other words that rhyme there that don't insinuate what this ad does."
French has repeatedly given to the North Dakota Republican Party, but he has not donated to Berg. Kent's wife, Pat, donated $1,000 to Berg in August 2010.
The Berg campaign confirmed that it is not affiliated with French and had no role in producing the ad.
UPDATE: 4:07 p.m. -- French told The Huffington Post that he has since "consulted with someone more political[ly] correct than I" and will address the controversy during a radio interview on Monday at 3:00 p.m. CT on KFYR's "What's on Your Mind" program.