N.D. Senate Race Is in Play For Democrat Heitkamp

Most North Dakotans do not like President Obama or his health care law, surveys show. Voters here have not backed a Democrat for president since 1964, and polling forecasts a loss for the White House occupant in November.

But North Dakotans also have a deep history of splitting the ticket. And that, mixed with a strong candidate and a booming economy, makes Democrats hopeful about winning a U.S. Senate seat here, despite the otherwise discouraging atmospherics.

The Senate race figures to be one of the most competitive in the country -- but it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

When veteran Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad announced his retirement last year, Republicans angling for control of the upper chamber saw a prime pickup opportunity. Two years ago, voters booted the state’s lone congressman, nine-term Democrat Earl Pomeroy, in favor of longtime Republican state legislator and former real estate developer Rick Berg. In that same election, they sent Republican Gov. John Hoeven to the Senate to replace a retiring Byron Dorgan, narrowing the Democratic majority in the upper chamber to just four seats. Republicans currently run the state government too.

With Conrad, who was first elected in 1986 and is currently chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, out of the picture, the seat appeared both attractive and attainable for the GOP. North Dakota is one of the four states -- Montana, Nebraska and Missouri are the others -- that Republicans think they can flip to gain Senate control. And they saw their chances increased by GOP nominee Berg, who is running with one term in the House under his belt.

But some of them now concede that the Democratic opponent, former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, has been able to make this a race. A June poll found she and Berg in a surprising dead heat, and the RealClearPolitics average has the Republican running just five points ahead.

Heitkamp is “hitting the right notes on energy . . . and the understanding in her background is allowing her to deviate from the mean,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

Read more from Caitlin Huey-Burns at RealClearPolitics

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published this page in In The News 2012-08-04 16:00:00 -0400
Analysis & Political Strategy