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Patrick Springer, Published November 03 2010

UPDATED: Hoeven in a landslide

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 complete but unofficial election results Tuesday night, he beat Democratic rival Tracy Potter 76 percent to 22 percent, with 458 of 505 precincts reporting. Keith J. Hanson, the Libertarian candidate, got almost 2 percent.

Unofficial results showed Hoeven with 178,906 votes, Potter with 51,947, followed by Hanson with 3,848 votes.

“We’re honored,” Hoeven said Tuesday night. “We’ve always made job creation job No. 1. That’s exactly why I ran for the Senate. We’ve got to get this national economy going.”

Potter conceded that North Dakota’s solid economy, with the nation’s lowest jobless rate and a projected state budget surplus of $1 billion, made his task insurmountable.

“That does play very well for him,” Potter said. He said he wanted North Dakota voters to have a choice.

“As an old civics teacher, I think someone should make the case,” said Potter, who was making his first run for statewide office.

The outcome of the race never appeared in serious doubt. Hoeven, 53, 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.

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.

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 winning his first term as governor in 2000, Hoeven served as head of the Bank of North Dakota. 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. Hoeven said he expects to hand the reins to Dalrymple in December.

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