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Patrick Springer, Published January 08 2010

U.S. Senate: Hoeven-Heitkamp rematch possible

The possibility of a political rematch between Gov. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp, former state attorney general, emerged Thursday with word that Heitkamp is considering a run for North Dakota’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Heitkamp, a Mandan Democrat, issued a statement Thursday saying she is in the early stages of considering a run for the seat held by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who announced Tuesday that he won’t seek a fourth term.

“I am flattered and grateful that so many people have urged me to run for the United States Senate,” she said. “However, it is extremely premature for anyone to say that my decision is close to being made. In fact, the discussion has just begun.”

Republican Hoeven defeated Heitkamp to win his first term in the governor’s office in 2000, and is “seriously considering” a run for the Senate, with a decision expected within two weeks.

Heitkamp’s brother Joel, a Fargo radio talk-show host and former state legislator, is encouraged that his sister is considering entering the race. She is the subject of a draft movement on Facebook.

“This is something she’s talking to her family about and considering and being very thoughtful about,” Joel Heitkamp said, adding that the possibility of a rematch with Hoeven is a factor.

“I think that rematch is one of the enticements,” he said. “Heidi’s always wanted to run against John Hoeven and run the kind of campaign she wants to run,” drawing sharp contrasts between their records and views.

A spokesman for Hoeven said a contest between the governor and former attorney general would offer voters a clear choice.

“If Heidi were to choose to run, it would offer a clear contrast, if that’s what the race shapes up to be,” Don Canton said.

Also Thursday, Democrat Kristin Hedger of Bismarck, who tried to unseat Secretary of State Al Jaeger, said she is considering a possible Senate run after her name was put forward by Jim Maxson of Minot, a former party leader and state legislator.

“I’m honored that leaders in the party would put my name forward,” she said. “Like most North Dakotans, I’m still in shock about Sen. Dorgan’s announcement.”

Now that her name has surfaced, Hedger, who is involved in managing her family’s business, Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, will consider the possibility, she said.

Meanwhile, the only declared Republican candidate for Senate said he believes his views are more attuned with North Dakota voters than those of Hoeven, who has high popularity ratings in polls and has not lost an election.

“I’m a lot more conservative,” said Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect and business consultant. “His (Hoeven’s) track record has been to double state spending over eight years.”

In Washington, “More spending is going to make it worse,” Sorum said of the serious economic problems confronting the nation.

In response, Canton said Hoeven’s record as governor has been to accrue a budget surplus of $700 million and cut taxes by $400 million, with spending initiatives in education and infrastructure that have wide public support.

“As far as conservative bona fides, I think the governor has them,” Canton said. “He’s conservative and concerned about meeting the needs of the people.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522