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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer , Published June 09 2010

U.S. Senate: Hoeven not taking race for granted

BISMARCK – Republican Gov. John Hoeven says he’s not complacent about the Senate race that has him poised to take over a seat held by a Democrat for the past 18 years.

Hoeven was unopposed in the state’s primary Tuesday and is set to face a Democrat in November who has raised a fraction of his $2 million in campaign funds. First-term Bismarck state Sen. Tracy Potter of Bismarck also was unopposed in the primary. Libertarian Keith Hanson of West Fargo was the lone candidate for his party’s endorsement.

The three are looking to replace Sen. Byron Dorgan, who stunned Democrats by announcing in January that he would not seek re-election. Hoeven has said he’d already planned to run and polls had shown him leading Dorgan in a hypothetical race.

Hoeven, who won his past two races with more than 70 percent of the vote, said nothing is settled until Nov. 2.

“You can never take anything for granted in these elections,” Hoeven said. “We have to all be committed and work hard, and we’re asking all of our supporters to be right there with us.”

Hoeven, 53, never has served in Congress – a likely benefit in an election year rife with anti-Washington sentiment among voters – but Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky already has promised him assignments on the chamber’s appropriations and energy committees.

A former Minot banker, Hoeven was first elected governor in 2000 after seven years as president of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota. In 2008, he became the first person ever elected to a third four-year term as North Dakota’s chief executive.

He has raised more than $2 million for his Senate campaign since January.

Joyce Ness, 54, a dental hygienist in Bismarck, said she is personally acquainted with the governor and voted for him because he is an “honest, caring, dedicated man.”

“I think he will do the right thing,” Ness said.

Potter, the only Democratic lawmaker in Bismarck’s four legislative districts and director of a nonprofit that helps maintain Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, had raised less than $50,000 through May 19, according to his most recent Federal Election Commission disclosure report.

Still, the 59-year-old veteran political activist called the idea of an invincible Hoeven “an illusion.”

“I’m experienced enough as a political person and have been around enough campaigns, I kind of know the ebbs and flows,” Potter said. “I can see that this is a time when it could be frustrating for our campaign, and we could get off our course. I’m not going to let that happen.”

Sue Triska, 55, is a sixth-grade teacher who lives in Potter’s state Senate district said and voted for him in the congressional primary. “I believe in what he stands for,” she said.

The shock of Dorgan’s January withdrawal and Hoeven’s subsequent candidacy made some of the state’s prominent Democrats wary of running. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., passed in favor of his own re-election bid, and former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, one of the party’s most charismatic figures, turned it down.

If he wins in November, Hoeven would be the first Republican member of North Dakota’s three-person congressional delegation in 24 years.

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