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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published February 13 2010

Bismarck conservative rally draws 900

BISMARCK – Activists at a Friday rally organized by the North Dakota Republican Party and conservative groups said sharply rising federal deficits and a troubling growth of government power will spark a backlash at the polls in November.

The retirements of Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and the Massachusetts Senate victory of Republican Scott Brown are only the beginning, said Marilyn Schoenberg of Hebron.

“I feel like we’ve won the second American Revolution,” Schoenberg said. “At least the war has turned.”

More than 900 people thronged a Bismarck motel ballroom to voice concerns about federal spending and policy and listen to Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who has become a favorite of “Tea Party” activists who advocate reductions in the federal budget and the size of government.

Bachmann urged each member of the crowd to volunteer for at least five hours for a political party or candidate this fall.

“You are historic,” Bachmann told the audience. “Think about how huge this is. This is going to get replicated all over the United States.”

Although last year’s federal deficit reached almost $1.4 trillion, Bachmann said it was possible to reduce the federal budget, instead of just slowing its rate of growth. But, she said, members of Congress would have to “grow a titanium spine” to carry out the task.

“We are hearing about how our schools and our governments, and everyone is just starved for money. They’re just cut to the bone,” Bachmann said. “I am here to tell you, that is not the case.”

A number of Republican politicians, including Gov. John Hoeven, who is seeking the GOP endorsement to run for the U.S. Senate this fall, attended the rally. Hoeven and Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect, are competing for the Senate endorsement.

Five Republicans are seeking the GOP endorsement to run for the U.S. House: Paul Schaffner, a Bismarck businessman; state Rep. Rick Berg of Fargo; Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer; J.D. Donaghe, who runs a Kenmare oilfield service business; and DuWayne Hendrickson of Minot, who ran as an independent for governor two years ago.

Before Bachmann’s speech, Democrats denounced a number of her policy stands, including her opposition to the federal farm bill and her recent remarks that younger people who are not yet drawing Social Security and Medicare benefits needed to be “weaned off” the program because of its huge financial liabilities.

“The extreme measures Bachmann wants would leave hardworking people to the whims of the stock market,” said Don Morrison, director of NDPeople.org. “Rather than turning (Social Security and Medicare) upside down, we can work for some reasonable, commonsense adjustments.”

Bismarck state Sen. Tracy Potter, the only declared Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, said Hoeven’s courting of conservatives in his Senate campaign will leave an opening for Democrats to get support from independents.

“She’s very far right. She’s a very extreme person,” Potter said of Bachmann. “Gov. Hoeven’s popularity is built on the fact that he’s been a moderate, a centrist, a former Demo-crat who has governed much as a Democrat ... This is why I think there’s an opening for him to actually stumble.”

Aside from Bachmann’s speech, most of the rally consisted of impassioned speeches from attendees themselves. About half the crowd raised their hands when asked if the rally was the first political event they had attended.

“Everything that’s going on, in health care, in the energy sector, the spending ... I need some hope, you guys,” said Curtis Jundt, a Bismarck engineer. “I’m here to seek hope, and I want to hear something that can give me some hope, and this movement is a big part of it.”

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