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Clarence F. (Rick) Olson, Published March 07 2010

No viable Dem-NPL candidate

I was not at all surprised to see former North Dakota attorney general Heidi Heitkamp officially beg out of running for the U.S. Senate this year against the presumed Republican candidate, Gov. John Hoeven. In my opinion, Heitkamp’s announcement leaves the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party without either a credible or a viable candidate to make the race against the immensely popular three-term governor.

I just don’t see Tracy Potter, Kristin Hedger or whoever the Democrats could throw up against Hoeven as having what it takes to do the impossible and beat Hoeven. A number of people in the Democrats’ stable were waiting on learning what Heitkamp’s decision was going to be before announcing their own plans.

My thinking is the Democrats will probably forfeit the Senate race and set their sights on 2012 when Sen. Kent Conrad’s, D-N.D., seat will be up as well as the governor/lieutenant governor race in North Dakota. I’m not saying the Democrats won’t endorse a candidate and therefore let Hoeven run unopposed. They will endorse someone; but that person will largely be a sacrificial lamb against the enormously popular Hoeven.

Having a “D” (the common abbreviation for Democrat) beside one’s name has made them very unpopular these days. This scenario is playing itself out across the country. Democratic incumbents in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate who just until recently were seen as being safe have all of a sudden become most vulnerable. I think the Democrats nationally are in for a rude awakening come November.

I’m sure Heitkamp saw the writing on the wall and simply decided that she didn’t want to go through another humiliating defeat at the ballot box at the hands of Hoeven. Heitkamp lost to Hoeven in the 2000 governor’s race, when North Dakotans went to the polls to elect a replacement for now-former Gov. Ed Schafer. Heitkamp hasn’t held public office since then.

Could Heitkamp take another stab at running for governor in 2012? By all means, I think she will. She did not rule out a gubernatorial bid during her announcement, which was carried live during her brother’s radio show.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see a brother and sister ticket shaping up in that particular race in 2012. It is no surprise that her brother, KFGO Radio personality and former state Sen. Joel Heitkamp, has been mentioned more than once as a potential Democratic candidate for governor. The question is which Heitkamp would head the ticket as the candidate for governor and which Heitkamp would take the No. 2 spot on the ticket as the lieutenant governor candidate?

For now, it looks like Hoeven is all but a shoo-in for the U.S. Senate seat that is being vacated by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.


Olson is an occasional contributor to The Forum’s commentary pages.