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Patrick Springer, Published November 02 2010

ND’s first Republican U.S. senator in quarter century

John Hoeven will move from the governor’s office and become the first Republican in almost a quarter century to represent North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.

In early election results Tuesday night, he led his Democratic rival Tracy Potter 77 percent to 21 percent, with 184 of 505 precincts reporting. Keith J. Hanson, the Libertarian candidate, got 2 percent.

Unofficial results showed Hoeven with 57,181 votes, Potter with 15,440, followed by Hanson with 1,229 votes. A total of 54,944 votes were counted.

The outcome of the race never appeared in serious doubt. Hoeven emerged as the presumptive senator in waiting when Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., announced in January that at age 68 he would not seek a fourth term, leaving his seat up for grabs.

Polls consistently showed Hoeven favored by 70 percent or more of the voters, a level of support Potter, who was making his first run for statewide office, was unable to dent.

Elected to three terms as governor beginning in 2000, the 53-year-old Hoeven was buoyed by a strong economy, including a booming oil patch and a projected budget surplus of $1 billion that defied the doldrums plaguing the national economy.

In fundraising, Hoeven’s campaign war chest dwarfed his rival’s. The Republican raised $3.1 million through September, while Potter took in $109,000 during the period – a margin of more than 28 to 1.

Potter, 60, a state senator from Mandan, ran as an unabashed Democrat who defended the controversial health reform law and favored allowing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire. He also called for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both candidates agreed that job growth was the paramount issue in the campaign, but offered starkly different prescriptions, as Hoeven stressed low taxes and Potter emphasized public investments and equalizing payroll taxes.

Hoeven is North Dakota’s first Republican U.S. senator since Democrat Kent Conrad, who was the state tax commissioner, staged an upset by unseating Republican Mark Andrews in 1986.

Before becoming governor, Hoeven served as head of the Bank of North Dakota from 1993 to 2000. Potter heads the nonprofit Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation in Mandan.

Hoeven remains governor until he resigns, when he will be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Dorgan’s term ends in early January.

U.S. senators, who serve a six-year term, are paid $174,000 a year.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522