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Published March 04 2010

Heitkamp out of Senate race, but others to declare candidacy

North Dakota Democrats are setting their sights on other possible candidates in the U.S. Senate race, now that the party’s widely supported possibility is out of consideration.

After two months weighing a bid, former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp decided she won’t seek the Democratic-NPL Party nomination for U.S. Senate.

Heitkamp cited personal and family reasons in her decision not to run and said it wasn’t for lack of desire or a solid campaign strategy.

“I have some good ideas about what needs to happen for North Dakota and for our country, but that’s not where my heart is … I just don’t see myself being a United States senator,” Heitkamp said.

However, Heitkamp added that she is interested in possibly running for governor again in 2012.

“It’s no surprise that I’ve always thought that being governor of the state of North Dakota is absolutely the best job anyone who loves North Dakota could aspire to,” Heitkamp said.

A Heitkamp bid for Senate would have likely pitted her for the second time against Gov. John Hoeven, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the Senate seat and who beat Heitkamp in the 2000 gubernatorial election.

Heitkamp acknowledged she would have faced a challenging campaign had she run but said she believes she could’ve beat Hoeven.

National Republicans, though, called Heitkamp’s decision an example that “the Democrats’ top-tier candidates in North Dakota are seeing the writing on the wall.”

“Heidi didn’t need a crystal ball,” said Republican National Committee spokesman LeRoy Coleman. “Her decision not to run was a reaction to the political climate in North Dakota.”

Contrasting the national party, Hoeven’s campaign said they respect Heit-kamp’s decision and want to focus on a positive approach to the campaign.

Paul Sorum of Fargo is competing against Hoeven for the GOP nomination.

Although state Democrats said Heitkamp’s decision disappoints them, the party isn’t left empty-handed.

Bismarck state Sen. Tracy Potter has already declared for the race, and others have expressed interest in running if Heitkamp did not.

“I’m not exactly jumping for joy,” Democratic-NPL Party chairman Mark Schneider said of Heitkamp’s decision, but added, “it opens the door for other candidates in our party.”

Businesswoman and former secretary of state candidate Kristin Hedger reiterated Wednesday her desire to serve in the U.S. Senate, but fell short of saying if – or when before the state party convention in three weeks – she might declare for the race.

Hedger previously said she wanted to know Heitkamp’s intentions before deciding on a possible bid.

“Like many Democrats, I was very fired up for her potential candidacy, but I also have referenced the fact that I, too, am very passionate about the United States Senate and serving our state,” said Hedger, who is a former aide to retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan.

“I believe Washington does need some fresh voices, and I believe I have a lot of attributes that could really serve our state well and bring a different tenor to the Senate,” Hedger added.

Whoever else might declare, Democrats recognize the uphill battle they face but caution against assuming the Senate seat is a done deal for Hoeven.

“Nobody’s foolish enough to say that John Hoeven doesn’t have the decided advantage at this point,” Schneider said. “But this is the first week in March, and it’s forever until November.”

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