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Published November 05 2010

ANALYSIS: Politicians look ahead to 2012 North Dakota governor's race

Tuesday’s historic election reshaped North Dakota’s political landscape and created a dizzying array of potential scenarios for the future of the state’s politics.

Some observers are already looking at where the cards might fall in two years, when voters will decide in the state’s next gubernatorial election.

Several prominent North Dakota political figures have shown an interest in running for governor, but the shake-up in Bismarck resulting from Tuesday’s general election could change the game.

Republican Gov. John Hoeven’s victory in the U.S. Senate election caused a domino effect in the governor’s office.

Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple will become governor when Hoeven resigns on Dec. 7. State law allows Dalrymple to name his replacement, which he announced Thursday would be former U.S. attorney Drew Wrigley, a well-known Republican in the state.

Dalrymple said Thursday it’s far too soon to speculate on whether he’ll seek a full four-year term in 2012.

“We’re focused on getting this job done the next two years,” Dalrymple told The Forum’s editorial board. “I have not thought about 2012. I would say next fall sometime I will have to start thinking about whether I keep doing it or not, and we’ll decide at that time.”

Wrigley, 45, sought out the lieutenant governor appointment months ago and admits he’s “not shy” about his political aspirations for public office in North Dakota.

Yet Wrigley was vague Thursday about whether he wants to run for governor – whether in two years or at some future date. He has previously voiced specific interest in seeking the job.

“There’s not a reason to think beyond,” he said. “There’s so much important work coming up.”

Dalrymple and Wrigley said they have a gentlemen’s agreement about their 2012 intentions.

“Drew and I have talked, and he said that he’s not going to try and knock me off or anything like that if I decide to run – so that was comforting,” Dalrymple said, with a hearty laugh.

Wrigley said if Dalrymple seeks a full term, he’d be open to serving as Dalrymple’s running mate.

“If Jack determines that he’s going to run, does that make this less desirable a job? It doesn’t,” Wrigley said.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is viewed as another Republican who could seek the state party’s nomination for governor in 2012.

Stenehjem, however, also said it’s too soon to say what might happen.

“Anyone who’s thought for longer than three minutes about what I’m going to do in two years has thought about that longer than I have,” said Stenehjem, who handily won re-election Tuesday to another four-year term.

Among state Democrats, former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp and lame-duck incumbent U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy are among the names that have surfaced as potential contenders in the 2012 governor race.

Just days after Pomeroy lost to Republican challenger Rick Berg on Tuesday, his spokesman, Brenden Timpe reiterated: “It’s much too early to speculate on what the future might hold for him.”

Heitkamp did not return calls seeking comment Thursday, but she’s made no secret of her desire to pursue another try for the governor’s office.

Heitkamp said in March she believed governor “is absolutely the best job anyone who loves North Dakota could aspire to.” She said in September she planned to decide after the election whether she’d run in 2012.

Heitkamp lost her first bid for the governor’s seat in 2000 in a competitive race against Hoeven.

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