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Published October 01 2012

Walaker not picking sides in Senate race

FARGO – In the closely watched race for North Dakota’s open Senate seat, U.S. Rep. Rick Berg continues to pile up endorsements from mayors of the state’s largest cities, but Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker won’t be one of them.

Walaker said Monday he won’t endorse Berg or Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in the Senate race, and in fact, he won’t endorse a candidate in any national race.

“And the reason is very simple,” he said. “We have to work (with) whoever wins.”

Walaker is among those pushing hard for a proposed $1.8 billion Red River diversion, which eventually will need approval and funding from Congress.

“We’re going to need the support of everybody we can get,” he said.

His reluctance to weigh in on the Senate race differs from two years ago, when he endorsed incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., over Republican challenger Berg, a state representative at the time.

“And I caught a lot of hell for it,” Walaker said.

Explaining why he endorsed Pomeroy, he said, “He’d been a friend of the city of Fargo on the majority of legislation. And he called me the night after he was defeated and said, ‘If I’d have known I’d have lost by 10 points, I never would have asked you.’”

This time around, Walaker said he was asked by Berg for his endorsement but told him no. He said Heitkamp “didn’t ask specifically” for his endorsement, but he let her know his stance – or lack thereof – during a discussion about issues facing Fargo.

“There was no animosity there by either Rick or Heidi,” he said.

Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown, who also endorsed Pomeroy in 2010, said he, too, won’t offer a Senate endorsement, noting he has “great respect” for both candidates.

“If Berg were running for his previous position, I think an endorsement’s appropriate,” he said. “But when you have two new candidates, then I think people need to weigh the issues and weigh the candidates and come up with their own choice.”

Berg has collected endorsements from 10 North Dakota mayors, including Bismarck Mayor John Warford, whose pick was announced by Berg’s campaign Monday. Also backing the Fargo businessman are the mayors of Casselton, Dickinson, Jamestown, Minot, Stanley, Wahpeton, Watford City, West Fargo and Williston.

“Mayor Warford has firsthand experience in addressing many of the issues that are shared by communities throughout North Dakota,” Berg said in a statement Monday. “His leadership is to be admired, and I appreciate his support and look forward to bringing our North Dakota way of doing things to the U.S. Senate.”

Heitkamp hasn’t put as much emphasis on individual endorsements, instead highlighting grassroots groups built around issues, including “Farmers and Ranchers for Heidi” and “Veterans for Heidi.”

“She is going to work with anyone to advance North Dakota priorities,” campaign spokesman Brandon Lorenz said.

What once was believed to be Berg’s race to win is now a tossup according to most political observers and polls, and Walaker said the intensity of both sides’ campaigns also factored into his decision.

“The national campaigns have gotten so absolutely negative that I get tired of listening to it,” he said, adding, “It makes you want to stay away from it as far as you possibly can.”

Walaker said he has endorsed incumbents in two state-level races: Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528


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