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Published April 01 2012

Berg doesn’t acknowledge June primary contest

BISMARCK – Fresh off his unopposed endorsement for U.S. Senate, Republican Rep. Rick Berg doesn’t acknowledge the challenge he faces now for full rights to the party’s nomination.

Republican Duane Sand chose to not seek the party’s endorsement here Saturday, wanting to face off against Berg in the statewide June primary.

In an interview with The Forum on Sunday afternoon, Berg dodged questions about Sand and the pending primary, including whether he’d be willing to debate his challenger.

“Our focus in this campaign is to get the country back on track and stop the failed policies of the Obama administration. … That’s what we’ve been talking about,” Berg said.

He repeated those same talking points at least three times during a five-minute interview. He also refused to answer multiple times whether he’d debate Sand before June.

“I don’t know how to say it differently: Our focus is to talk about the problems facing our country,” he said, adding: “Like all of our primaries, it’s open to anyone that wants to engage.”

Sand told The Forum’s Editorial Board on Friday that he planned to ask Berg to debate him and he’d even let Berg set the date.

“I am going to be focusing on the challenges facing our country as well,” Sand said Sunday, “but I will certainly set aside an unlimited amount of time to debate Rick, because the people of North Dakota deserve to know where each of us stands on the solutions to those challenges.”

“Any day, any time and any place I can be to help accommodate Rick’s schedule for a series of debates, I will be there,” Sand said.

Berg said the GOP nomination is “an open process” and mentioned that he and Sand have “had a lot of good discussions” at the series of district conventions that were held in the two months before the state convention.

“We’ve had great debate and public input,” Berg said.

However, Sand refutes Berg’s description of the district gatherings.

“Rick and I have spoken 20 words or less to each other in the past 10 months,” Sand said. “District conventions are an opportunity for each state-wide candidate to give 3- to 5-minute speeches to potential delegates. They are clearly not a debate, nor are they meant to be.”

Berg cited scheduling conflicts as his reason for declining two official debates that had been scheduled before the GOP state convention. The events were hosted by the North Dakota Tea Party and other conservative groups.

Berg said he plans “to come out of the convention with strong Republican support and talk about those issues that’ll save our country.”

“Our approach is the same as it was in our last primary,” Berg said, referencing the 2010 U.S. House race in which J.D. Donaghe challenged Berg in the June primary.

Berg received 90 percent of the vote in that contest.

Whoever wins the June primary between Berg and Sand will be the Republicans’ official nominee in the U.S. Senate race and take on Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in November.

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