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Published August 29 2012

National GOP directing $3 million to North Dakota Senate ads

FARGO – In part because of the flap over a Missouri Senate candidate’s comments about “legitimate rape,” national Republicans are directing more money to North Dakota – bringing millions of dollars more in TV commercials to the state’s close Senate race.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has booked $3.1 million in TV ad time between now and Election Day to boost the campaign of Republican Rep. Rick Berg, Politico reported this week.

The ad buy surpasses what national Democrats have reserved so far in the state and further exemplifies the intense spotlight on North Dakota’s high-stakes campaign.

Democrat Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign quickly sought to cast the NRSC’s moved as a sign that Republicans want to save Berg’s “struggling campaign.”

“Rick Berg’s Washington friends just hit a very expensive panic button, because they know he can’t win over North Dakotans with his history of voting the party line,” Heitkamp campaign manager Tessa Gould said Wednesday.

Berg’s campaign spokesman Chris Van Guilder pointed out that national Democrats previously pledged at least $2.8 million in airtime to back Heitkamp this fall.

“The stakes in this election are high, as North Dakotans will choose between two very different paths – either continuing with President Obama’s agenda, as supported by Heidi Heitkamp … or electing Rick Berg, who will work with Senator (John) Hoeven to change course and make Washington work more like North Dakota,” Van Guilder said.

He did not offer comment specifically on the NRSC’s investment in the race.

Politico said the NRSC’s dollars became available after national party leaders decided to pull their resources out of two races: New Mexico, where there’s a seemingly losing battle for Republicans, and Missouri, where the GOP has cut its ties to Rep. Todd Akin after he said earlier this month women’s bodies can prevent pregnancies in cases of “legitimate rape.”

The Senate race in North Dakota was once believed to be an easy win for Berg, but many political analysts now peg the race a toss-up.

Given the Berg-Heitkamp race is considered one of a handful that could decide partisan power in the U.S. Senate next year, the money that national parties are dumping into North Dakota’s Senate contest is only part of the picture.

Voters will also likely be bombarded this fall by TV ads from both Heitkamp’s and Berg’s campaigns, which have millions to spend before Election Day. And several partisan groups – like the conservative Crossroads GPS or the liberal Majority PAC – are also investing millions into attack ads.

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