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Published August 30 2012

Berg, Heitkamp set for three debates

FARGO – North Dakota’s U.S. Senate candidates will have three – and only three – debates before Election Day.

Republican Rep. Rick Berg’s campaign revealed his final debate schedule to The Forum on Thursday, confirming three joint appearances with Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.

Berg’s schedule falls short of Heitkamp’s expectations for at least seven chances to go toe-to-toe with her opponent, but Berg spokesman Chris Van Guilder said the three debates should provide ample opportunity for the public to see the differences between the candidates.

“We’re looking forward to these three debates,” Van Guilder said. “They’ll be open, public and accessible to people across North Dakota.”

The three debates will be hosted by the North Dakota Broadcasters Association, Prairie Public TV and a partnership of Dakota Media Access, The Bismarck Tribune and the League of Women Voters.

The first event is next week in Bismarck, while the other two are set for later in October.

Heitkamp’s campaign expressed disappointment at Berg’s decision to commit to no more than three debates.

“It’s really sad that Washington could change Congressman Berg so quickly because two years ago he was clamoring for the opportunity to debate,” Heitkamp spokesman Liam Forsythe said, referring to the 2010 U.S. House race when Berg and Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy both pressed for more debates while accusing each other of dodging them.

Van Guilder said the three agreed-upon events appealed to Berg because they come “without any type of partisan or special-interest affiliation.”

Since June, Heitkamp’s campaign has pressured Berg to commit to multiple debates, citing the need for the candidates to discuss the “critical issues” facing North Dakota and the country, such as the pending farm bill.

Heitkamp had accepted invitations for four other proposed debates, including ones sponsored by the Lignite Energy Council and Fargo-based KFGO radio.

Heitkamp’s brother, Joel, is a KFGO talk-show host, and Heitkamp herself has been previously featured as an occasional on-air personality for the station.

The Lignite Energy Council has donated $5,000 to both Heitkamp and Berg, , and the pro-coal lobbying group also held separate fundraisers this spring to benefit both candidates.

Senate debate details

North Dakota’s U.S. Senate candidates, Republican Rep. Rick Berg and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, plan to have three joint appearances before Election Day:

• A formal debate at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the North Dakota Broadcasters Association’s fall conference in Bismarck.

• A taped debate with Prairie Public TV, which will air at 9 p.m. Oct. 15. The event will be recorded that afternoon at Prairie Public’s Fargo studio.

• A debate Oct. 25 in the Bismarck-Mandan area. Details for this event are still being finalized by the sponsors, which are Dakota Media Access, The Bismarck Tribune and the League of Women Voters.

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