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Published April 16 2012

Forum editorial: The most expensive mud ever

The U.S. Senate race in North Dakota will be one of the most expensive in the state’s history. That’s not speculation. It’s the conclusion of both political camps. Democratic-NPL candidate Heidi Heitkamp already has amassed an impressive campaign fund. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., the Republican-endorsed candidate, has an even bigger war chest. Both campaigns expect to receive more heaps of cash from individuals, corporate givers and their respective U.S. Senate campaign committees.

Why this race? First, it’s an open seat, and that is rare in North Dakota. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is retiring. Had he decided to seek another term, he likely would have won. Republicans might not have put as much effort into the race if the veteran senator were on the ballot.

Second, Heitkamp and Berg have demonstrated levels of popularity among voters that, at this point, suggest the race is a tossup. Early polls that have not been made public indicate a tilt of a few points either way.

Third, control of the U.S. Senate is the prize. A few months ago, Republicans were confident they would win enough seats to gain the majority. But those expectations have changed as races in several states are no longer looking like sure bets for Republicans (Maine and Massachusetts, for example). That’s the situation in North Dakota, where Berg, who easily beat longtime Democratic Congressman Earl Pomeroy in 2010, had been expected to be the sure Senate bet. Not so today because Heitkamp is a well-known former attorney general, a formidable campaigner and debater, and a good fundraiser.

So even as both candidates decry the influence of money in politics (they did so in weekend broadcast interviews) both are putting in whatever time is necessary to fatten their campaign coffers. That’s the nature of the game they must play to be competitive. The mudslinging of the past few campaigns will be repeated this year. It’s become “the North Dakota way,” like everywhere else. Only this time, North Dakota candidates will be slinging the most expensive mud in the state’s political history.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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