North Dakota State Sen. Howard Anderson Jr. (R-Turtle Lake) says Doug Burgum is “smart” for refusing to disclose details of his surgery in a Los Angeles hospital last year for a serious illness.
Why? Because Anderson thinks that when politicians reveal their medical issues, it can hurt them on election day.
As an example, he cites US Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), whose breast cancer diagnosis dominated headlines during her unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2000. (She was defeated by Republican John Hoeven.)
“When the information about Senator Heitkamp’s medical issue first surfaced, many people perceived it as an attempt to obtain the sympathy vote and it hurt her campaign,” Anderson emails us.
Isn’t getting breast cancer so complicated? First you think it helps you reach that crucial segment of the electorate, the “sympathy vote”! But then it backfires, because people don’t like that you’re trying to get the “sympathy vote”!
In fact, Heitkamp’s problem wasn’t that she tried to exploit her illness. The problem was that her opponent used it against her, painting her as some kind of cancer opportunist.
When a newspaper poll, one month before the 2000 election, showed her with a six-point lead, Hoeven responded by saying Ms. Heitkamp’s success was because of the publicity surrounding her cancer announcement. The implication of Hoeven’s argument was clear: Heitkamp wasn’t qualified — she was just riding a wave of sympathy.
Well, some people took the bait. Though the same newspaper poll indicated voters weren’t taking Heitkamp’s illness into consideration, the anectodal evidence suggests otherwise.
Pam Musland of Jamestown, N.D., wrote in a 2012 letter to the Fargo Forum that “I know people who didn’t vote for Heidi simply because she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. As a breast cancer survivor myself, that is beyond sad.”
We can’t figure out why, if Heitkamp’s health was such a big deal (even the New York Times covered it), nobody in the press is asking about Burgum’s mysterious illness (read about it here). It’s almost like there are two different standards … one for a female politician and one for a powerful, alpha-male businessman …
Burgum, the Republican candidate for governor, hasn’t said a word about his physical health since Mean Read published evidence yesterday of a major surgery he underwent in 2015. “Mr. Burgum is smart to leave the issue to you to speculate upon,” Anderson writes us.
Anderson adds: “Thankfully North Dakota is not national politics, where they cannot find any substantive issues to discuss and must revert to the personal issues.”
In North Dakota we don’t discuss personal issues … unless it’s breast cancer!