Midterm election's biggest campaign controversies: The top 9 of 2018

From a senator outing sexual assault survivors to a campaign manager allegedly assaulted by a tracker, the 2018 midterm elections have been rife with controversy.

As Election Day looms, read on for a look at nine of the most controversial moments of the 2018 midterms.

Heitkamp outs abuse survivors

Less than a month before the election, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., had to apologize after her campaign publicly identified domestic and sexual abuse survivors in an ad without getting permission from several.

The ad, placed in multiple North Dakota newspapers, was an open letter in opposition to GOP opponent Rep. Kevin Cramer. It criticized comments he made before Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. It was signed by more than 125 people, although some were just initials.

Keeley Beck said her name was printed in the ad without her permission.

“I’m angry. Everyone has a story, and they should be able to be the person to tell it if they choose to,” Beck told Fox News.

Some women also said they were wrongly identified as abuse survivors.


In a statement, Heitkamp said she “deeply regret[s] this mistake.” Her campaign planned to issue a retraction and personally apologize to those “impacted by this,” she said.

She was later accused of using a World War II veteran’s photo without his permission.

Fox News has ranked the race as likely Republican.

Shalala’s Castro problem

Congressional hopeful Donna Shalala came under fire when her campaign promoted an event with Rep. Barbara Lee, who has praised the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Congressional hopeful Donna Shalala came under fire when her campaign promoted an event with a congresswoman who praised the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Shalala is the Democratic nominee for Congress in Florida’s 27th district — an area that is largely made up of Hispanic residents, particularly of Cuban descent. Despite her name recognition, Shalala has faced a tight race in a district that Hillary Clinton won by a 20-point margin over President Trump in 2016.

And her campaign’s promotion of an event with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Rep. Barbara Lee, who called Castro a “smart man” and encouraged people to “mourn his loss” after his death, certainly didn’t help.

Shalala’s campaign ultimately amended the event on its website to just include Pelosi. Still, about 40 people protested outside the event with Pelosi. Frank de Varona, a demonstrator, said he was “angry” and “furious” after he learned about the event.


“I disagree with anyone that praises Castro or praises [Nicaraguan leader Daniel] Ortega … or praises any other dictator,” Shalala said. “Let me make it clear: Not every member of Congress that comes down here do we agree on every issue, but particularly on the Cuban issue or the Nicaraguan issue or the Venezuelan issue.”

GOP campaign chief rebukes King

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is facing criticism after he endorsed a Toronto mayoral candidate who espouses white nationalist and anti-Semitic views. (Getty Images)

As Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, continues his battle for re-election, he certainly isn't getting a boost from a top House Republican.

"Congressman Steve King's recent comments, actions and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior," said Rep. Steve Stivers, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee.

King has faced backlash since he publicly endorsed a white nationalist candidate for mayor in Toronto. Faith Goldy has promoted books espousing anti-Semitic ideas and defended the white supremacist "14 words" slogan. He was also criticized for sitting down for an interview with a far-right Austrian publication, telling them, "If we don't defend Western Civilization, then we will become subjugated by the people who are the enemies of faith, the enemies of justice."

Several of his Twitter posts, too, have drawn scrutiny.

King, who has served in Congress since 2003, faces Democrat J.D. Scholten in his re-election race. Scholten accused King of spending "more time supporting far-right leaders in other countries than he does focusing on the needs of the people in our district."

Land O'Lakes also ended its support of King.

Democratic operative's confrontation with GOP campaign manager

Mike Stark, a former Democratic operative for the liberal American Bridge 21st Century group, was arrested in October after he allegedly hurt a female campaign manager for a Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Stark allegedly confronted Nevada GOP gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt and Kristin Davison, his campaign manager, on Oct. 16.

“We’re used to trackers, but this guy was very physical — pushing me, pushing into members of my staff, screaming,” Davison told Fox News. “This man was physical, almost body-checking me. I was getting nervous for my safety, so we left, and went into an open room.”


She said she sustained bruises on her arms and neck and was “terrified and traumatized.”

“I was scared. Every time I tried pulling away, he would grab tighter and pull me closer into him,” Davison said, adding that Stark pulled her head into his chest and held her there for several minutes.

Stark has denied the allegations and claims to possess a video he said would prove his innocence. He said it does show Davison getting hurt, but he wasn’t the one who did it.

Ward's 'narcissistic' comment on McCain 

Kelli Ward, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate, came under fire for comments she made about Sen. John McCain just before his death.  (Facebook)

Unsuccessful Senate candidate Kelli Ward, a Republican, came under fire for a comment about Sen. John McCain before his death.

Campaign aide Jonathan Williams pondered on Facebook if it was "just a coincidence" that the announcement of McCain ending medical treatment for his brain cancer came the same day Ward launched a statewide bus tour ahead of Arizona's primary elections.

Ward responded: "I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me."

McCain passed away just hours after those comments were posted on social media. Ward later apologized and blamed "the media" for "attacking [her] over fake stories," The Washington Post reported.

Aaron Borders, an Arizona lobbyist and ex-vice chair of the Maricopa County GOP, told the newspaper that Ward "shouldn't be saying any of this."

"Leave it alone. [McCain's] not even an opponent," Borders said. "That's about as narcissistic as it gets."

Ward was ultimately defeated in the Arizona primary for U.S. Senate by Rep. Martha McSally.

Florida candidate caught lying about college credentials

Melissa Howard, a candidate for a Florida state House seat, withdrew from the election after admitting to lying about her college credentials. (Facebook)

Republican Melissa Howard ended her bid for a Florida state House seat this year after she admitted to lying about her collegiate credentials.

Howard initially faced questions about her degree after she posted a copy of what she said were her college transcripts on Facebook and sent a photo of her purported diploma to media outlets. But a lawyer for Miami University questioned the diploma’s authenticity, telling the Sarasota Herald-Tribune it did not match those issued in 1994 or 1996, the years she claimed she graduated.


“I made a mistake in saying that I completed my degree. What I did was wrong and set a bad example for someone seeking public service,” Howard said.

McCaskill’s plane

Missouri incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill's private plane has often been a contentious subject during her campaign. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill was heavily criticized by her GOP opponent for her use of a private plane -- particularly when she said her campaign was “hitting the road” in an RV tour of Missouri.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, McCaskill’s private plane was used for the trip as it followed the same route as the RV. McCaskill maintained she was on the RV for most of the tour, but “added some stops with the use of the plane.”


McCaskill’s spokeswoman, Meira Bernstein, said the Democrat “only flew to where she stayed overnight and to allow for an additional stop that otherwise would not have been possible.” She said no campaign or taxpayer dollars “are ever used for the plane.”

“Paying on my own dime to visit more Missouri veterans is not something I’m going to apologize for,” McCaskill also said.

But Josh Hawley, her Republican challenger, slammed McCaskill on social media, saying, “It must be good to be rich and liberal.”

“Why don’t you give up using your luxury jet for the next 147 days,” Hawley said in June. “Just 147 days. You can do it. Come live like the rest of us. I dare you.”

Fox News has ranked the Senate race a toss-up.

Ocasio-Cortez’s Israel flub

During an interview with PBS, progressive House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised eyebrows when she said, “I also think that what people are starting to see -- at least in the occupation of Palestine -- is just an increasing crisis of humanitarian condition and that to me is just where I tend to come from on this issue.”

She was pressed repeatedly to elaborate before she admitted she is “not the expert at geopolitics on this issue.”

Ocasio-Cortez stunned the political world when she beat incumbent Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York’s Democratic primary. A member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Ocasio-Cortez will face Republican Anthony Pappas in the general election this fall.

Facebook rejects campaign ads

Multiple candidates have accused Facebook of rejecting or blocking campaign advertisements.

Republican congressional candidate Elizabeth Heng said Facebook “revoked approval to advertise” a campaign video which includes stark photos of the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s, which her parents survived. The ad touches on the tragedy as she talks about her parents’ survival and her campaign mantra: “Great things can come from great adversity.”


“We don’t allow ads that contain shocking, disrespectful or sensational content, including ads that depict violence or threats of violence,” Facebook said, according to a screenshot shared by Heng.

Facebook later reversed course and allowed the ad because “it is clear the video contains historical imagery relevant to the candidate’s story.”

State Rep. Matt Caldwell, a Republican running for Florida agriculture commissioner, also criticized Facebook after it blocked his pro-gun ad from the site.

Caldwell said he received the message, “Not Approved: Your ad can’t promote the sale of weapons or ammunition” from Facebook when he tried to share a video that depicted him shooting a shotgun and touting his endorsement from the National Rifle Association.

“We review millions of ads each week and sometimes we make mistakes,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We have overturned the incorrect decision and the ads are now running live on Facebook.”

Fox News’ Benjamin Brown, Samuel Chamberlain, Paulina Dedaj, Alex Pappas and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.