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Associated Press, Published November 06 2012

ND Senate race carries big stakes for GOP

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate race has big stakes for the state and the nation, with Republicans banking on it to help give them control of the chamber and Congress.

The GOP also hoped for a victory in the race for North Dakota's lone U.S. House seat. If Republicans won both races, that would give the party complete control of the North Dakota delegation just two years after Democrats comfortably held all three jobs.

In the Senate race, Republican Rick Berg and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp were competing for a seat held by retiring Democrat Kent Conrad for 26 years. Berg, who was elected in a wave of Republican victories in 2010, hoped to become the first North Dakota congressman in more than 50 years to move from the House to the Senate after just one term.

His race with Heitkamp was the most expensive U.S. Senate race in North Dakota history, with the candidates spending more than $8 million combined. Outside groups poured in millions more for television and radio advertising and mailings on behalf of both candidates.

Heitkamp, a 57-year-old former state tax commissioner and attorney general, was running her sixth statewide campaign, and Berg acknowledged her personal popularity and name recognition. He made strides by focusing on her support for the new federal health care law, which Republicans say is unpopular in North Dakota, and by describing her as a reliable ally of Democratic President Barack Obama. The president did not carry heavily Republican North Dakota in 2008 and was not expected to this year.

The Senate race closely resembled the House race Berg won two years ago, when the 53-year-old property developer from Fargo worked to link Pomeroy to Obama and the health care legislation the president pushed through Congress with Pomeroy's help.

Berg also emphasized Heitkamp's support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid supports regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, an unpopular stand in North Dakota, where oil and coal production are a major source of jobs and tax revenue.

Berg's Senate bid left open his House seat, and Republican Kevin Cramer and Democrat Pam Gulleson were fighting to replace him.

Cramer was running his third campaign for a House seat, after losing twice to incumbent Democrat Earl Pomeroy in the 1990s. Two years ago, he lost the Republican nomination to run against Pomeroy again to Berg. This year, the former Republican state chairman and party director bypassed the convention and let five rivals fight it out for the delegates' endorsement. Their choice, Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, lost to Cramer in the June primary.

Like Berg, Cramer campaigned in large part on his opposition to the new federal health care law. He advocates replacing it with provisions that he says will give consumers more control over their health care.

Gulleson, a 54-year-old former state lawmaker whose family owns a ranch near Rutland, endorsed some changes in the federal health care law but said she wouldn't repeal it.

The winners of the House and Senate race will join former Republican Gov. John Hoeven in Washington. Hoeven replaced former Sen. Byron Dorgan, when he retired in 2010.

North Dakota's congressional delegation was entirely Democratic then, with Conrad, Pomeroy and Dorgan in office. With Pomeroy's defeat and Dorgan and Conrad's retirements, it could be entirely Republican after this year's election.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.