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Clarence F. (Rick) Olson, Published January 22 2010

ND Democrats have no one in the stable for Senate race

Sen. Byron Dorgan’s, D-N.D., bombshell announcement that he will not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate this year has left a golden opportunity for the Republicans to re-capture the seat.

Gov. John Hoeven has announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat that Dorgan will be vacating early next year. Unless something absolutely unforeseen happens, Hoeven will become the Republican Party nominee to run for the retiring Dorgan’s seat in the Senate. The events that are unfolding leave the door wide open to Hoeven being elected as North Dakota’s next senator.

I am thrilled about his decision to throw his hat into the ring and run for the Senate. Hoeven has served the people of our state with honor and distinction as the state’s chief executive for more than eight years.

A number of individuals in the Democratic Party have indicated their interest in a potential candidacy to replace

their beloved Dorgan. The most notable of these individuals were KFGO Radio personality and former state senator Joel Heitkamp, his sister and former North Dakota attorney general Heidi Heitkamp, as well as nationally syndicated talk-show host Ed Schultz, who has since said he will not run.

However, in my opinion, the Democrats really don’t have anyone in the stable who could beat Hoeven in a head-to-head race.

Schultz noted last week that he was flattered to have been asked to run, but he backed out when it was pointed out by the National Republican Senatorial Committee that if Schultz kept talking about the possibility of running for the U.S. Senate in North Dakota on his nightly program on MSNBC, that the network could be later accused of giving Schultz illegal corporate campaign donations.

If Joel Heitkamp were to declare his candidacy and keep his job at KFGO at the same time, then KFGO would be put in a position of having to give free air time to his opponent or opponents in the election. That is Federal Communications Commission policy. I highly doubt that Radio Fargo Moorhead, KFGO’s parent company, would want to have to give out all that free air time.

It’s likely that Heitkamp would have to leave his show in order for him to run for the Senate for this exact reason. It would also be a huge conflict of interest for the KFGO news department to cover a Joel Heitkamp campaign while he’s still an employee of KFGO.

The governor has nothing to lose by running for the U.S. Senate. Under provisions of the state Constitution, the lieutenant governor automatically becomes governor in the event of the death, resignation or impeachment and removal from office of the governor. Should Hoeven be defeated in the election, of course he would still be the governor until his current term expires in 2012.

In short, what would happen is this: The state’s lieutenant governor, Jack Dalrymple, would be sworn in as governor immediately once Hoeven were to submit his resignation as governor in order to assume his seat in the Senate. A seamless transition between Hoeven and Dalrymple would therefore be assured.

In one of his first official acts as governor, Dalrymple would appoint someone to succeed himself as lieutenant governor. Confirmation of the appointee by the Legislature is not required. It is assumed that Dalrymple would want someone in place right away, because the 2011 regular session of the Legislature would be just around the corner, starting in January. Among the roles of the lieutenant governor is that he or she serves as the presiding officer of the state Senate.

Dalrymple and the newly appointed lieutenant governor would serve the remainder of those terms of office through 2012, when the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices are once again up for election.