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Published February 25 2010

Heitkamp decision on US Senate bid expected ‘very soon’

Former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp might make her intentions known for a possible Senate bid within the coming days, the state’s Democratic-NPL Party chairman said Wednesday.

Heitkamp has been widely encouraged to run since early January when Sen. Byron Dorgan announced his upcoming retirement, but she has offered little public comment beyond saying she was considering it.

Heitkamp did not return messages Wednesday seeking comment.

With the Democratic-NPL state convention beginning one month from today, party Chairman Mark Schneider said Heitkamp could announce her decision as soon as this week or early next week.

“We’re still waiting to hear from Heidi. I anticipate that that’ll be very soon,” Schneider said. “She’s not under any deadline. She’s on her own, but Heidi knows the convention’s coming and it’s good to make a decision. And, there are other people that are waiting to see what Heidi’s going to do.”

Among those waiting are Democrats who said they’re considering a bid if Heitkamp doesn’t run, including former secretary of state candidate Kristin Hedger, and Heitkamp’s brother, Joel, who is a Fargo radio talk-show host and former state legislator.

“I had a conversation with Heidi this week, and she told me an announcement from her is forthcoming,” Joel Heitkamp said Wednesday. “The prospect for me running is nowhere near as great as what I think it is for Heidi making a race. And I still hope she does, and if she doesn’t, I understand.”

Pam Gulleson, Dorgan’s state director, previously expressed interest in running but said Wednesday she decided it’s not the right time for her to pursue a campaign.

Yet, the optimism once expressed by state Democrats for a Heidi Heitkamp bid for Senate seems to be dwindling, based on a noticeable shift in tone from those like Schneider.

Heitkamp hasn’t been actively in the spotlight since her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2000 against John Hoeven, who’s seeking the GOP endorsement for the Senate.

That 10-year absence from the political arena coupled with Heitkamp’s relative silence since January leads some political experts to predict her announcement might be that she won’t run.

“My guesstimation is that she’s probably not going to jump into this race,” said Jim Danielson, longtime political observer and retired political science professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

“She hasn’t done much to raise her profile at all in the past few months,” he said. “All we’ve heard from or about her is the possibility of her running, and she’s been pretty silent.”

But whether announcements come from Heitkamp, Hedger or others, Schneider expects more Democratic candidates to enter the race.

Bismarck state Sen. Tracy Potter is the only declared Democrat in the race for Dorgan’s seat.

“I really do expect we’re going to have some movement much sooner rather than later,” Schneider said. “Any candidate that’s going to announce will want to have at least some time before the convention to line up delegate support, get their name out, get their platform out and be able to meet with people. It’s a process, and it does take some time.”

Along with Hoeven, Paul Sorum, of Fargo, is seeking the GOP nomination. The state Republican convention is March 19-21.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541