Associated Press, Published November 06 2012
Most campaigning stops as ND voters make decisionsBISMARCK — A longstanding North Dakota law that banned campaigning on Election Day is no longer in effect, but many candidates were swearing off making a final push in the state as voters began to cast ballots Tuesday.
A former North Dakota Republican Party chairman has challenged a state law that bans campaigning on Election Day, and a federal judge ruled last week that it can't be enforced Tuesday. In past elections, the law kept candidates from running Election Day ads and prompted them to take down campaign signs the night before.
John Grabinger, a Democratic state Senate candidate in Jamestown, was one of many candidates who said he would forswear campaigning Tuesday even though it was permitted.
"People have had enough of the campaign. We don't need more of it on Election Day," Grabinger said. "If you ain't got it done ... I don't think more campaigning on Election Day is going to make a whole lot of difference."
Voters were making decisions Tuesday in the state's high-profile U.S. Senate race, in which Republicans were banking on a win by Rep. Rick Berg to help them gain control of the chamber, along with races for the U.S. House, governor, state Legislature and a number of statewide offices. Five ballot initiatives also awaited their verdict, including proposals to protect farming rights and impose harsher criminal penalties for cruelty to dogs, cats and horses.
North Dakota residents broke a record for early voting. Nearly 130,000 people had already voted before the polls opened on Election Day, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said. That broke the record set in 2008 by about 10,000 votes.
About 75 people — young and old, businessmen and laborers in overalls — lined up outside the Bismarck Civic Center before polls opened at 7 a.m.
Kurt Triplett, a 26-year-old salesman for an electric company, said he was voting for the first time because "this is the first time I've cared."
Triplett said he intended to vote straight Republican because he thought that party had better ideas for the economy and because "I like my guns."
The weather was favorable for turnout: Temperatures were in the 30s, and no rain or snow was in the forecast.
The long, contentious campaign for Senate drew to a close with a flurry of last-minute appearances by Berg and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.
Heitkamp, a 57-year-old former state tax commissioner and attorney general, stumped the length of the Red River Valley on Monday, while Berg, a 53-year-old property developer from Fargo, toured a West Fargo engineering company and spoke to a civic club luncheon in Minot.
Berg has been trying to make history by becoming the first North Dakota congressman since 1960 to make the jump to the Senate after just one term in the House. He is competing with Heitkamp to replace Democrat Kent Conrad, who is retiring from the Senate after 26 years.
Much of Berg's campaign has focused on Heitkamp's support for Democrat President Barack Obama and his health care overhaul. The president did not carry heavily Republican North Dakota in 2008 and was not expected to this year.
Sol Wezelman, 94, a retired Bismarck insurance salesman, walked several blocks to the state Capitol early Tuesday to cast his vote for Berg.
"A vote for Heidi would have been a vote for Obama," he said.
Heitkamp voted with her 22-year-old son, Nathan, at a bowling alley in Mandan on Tuesday morning.
"It feels real good," she said of her chances in the race.
Heitkamp has emphasized her independence from her party. Her campaign focused on local issues, such as expanding North Dakota's oil refining capacity, and she frequently criticized Obama on energy issues.
In the U.S. House race, Republican Kevin Cramer, a state public service commissioner, is running against Democrat Pam Gulleson, a former state lawmaker whose family owns a ranch near Rutland, for the chance to replace Berg. If Heitkamp and Gulleson win, they would become the first women elected to represent North Dakota in Washington.
Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple is seeking his first full term after succeeding former Gov. John Hoeven when Hoeven was elected to the Senate two years ago. Dalrymple is running against Democratic state Sen. Ryan Taylor, a Towner rancher and the state Senate's Democratic leader. The campaign has focused on how best to manage North Dakota's economic growth from a western oil boom. Dalrymple says he's done a good job of balancing spending on public works with tax cuts, while Taylor says more state money could go to help local governments deal with problems created by oil-related development.
North Dakota has not had a Democratic governor in 20 years.
Associated Press writer James MacPherson contributed to this report
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.