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Published February 09 2012

First ad blitz of Senate race in North Dakota off-note

FARGO – The first blitz of outside special interest advertising to target this fall’s U.S. Senate race in North Dakota clashes with the state’s political realities on two issues it highlights: the Keystone XL project and the jobs it may create.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a nationwide campaign Thursday promoting Republicans who favor the pipeline project, including North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg, a Senate candidate.

The project would build a 2,000-mile pipeline connecting Canada’s tar sands to oil refineries in southeast Texas. The company claims it will create about 13,000 jobs, though the U.S. State Department estimates it will make 6,000 or less.

The chamber’s ad asks, “Why did President Obama reject bringing jobs to North Dakota? ... Tell Congressman Berg to keep fighting for North Dakota jobs.”

In unveiling the ad campaign, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue heralded Berg as a courageous fighter against Obama’s “politically motivated decision.”

“Rick has the courage to fight for job-creating policies in Washington, even when the president gets in the way,” Donohue said in a statement.

Yet the Democrat seen as Berg’s main competitor in the Senate race – former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp – also supports the Keystone XL pipeline.

And North Dakota – unlike much of the rest of the country – isn’t hurting for work. The state has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.3 percent, due in large part to the oil boom in western North Dakota, as well as vibrant growth in cities like Fargo.

National and state Democrats said the ad’s message will hold little weight in North Dakota, despite the $200,000 the chamber is shelling out here.

Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the chamber’s move reflects how Berg is “deeply unpopular” in North Dakota.

“Congressman Berg’s political partisanship in Washington has hurt him with North Dakotans who expect their representatives to put the country ahead of politics,” Canter said. “Voters are going to see these attacks for what they are and all the money in the world won’t be able to distract from the Republican special interest agenda.”

The chamber said it plans to launch its largest-ever political campaign this year to “educate constituents about members’ positions on the Chamber’s pro-growth agenda.”

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent nearly $33 million in the 2010 election cycle, making it the biggest spender among organizations that were not national party committees.

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