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Published November 07 2012

Forum editorial: A stunning Heitkamp triumph

Heidi Heitkamp’s stunning win in North Dakota’s U.S. Senate race was, among other things, confirmation that the state’s voters are not as deep red as pundits would have it. North Dakotans are ticket-splitters. Tuesday’s result in the Senate race was an example of ticket-splitting that will become a lesson in the state’s political lore.

Congressman Rick Berg lost to Heitkamp as every other Republican on the statewide ballot was winning. By all measures, Berg should have won. At the start of the campaign, the stars had aligned in his favor. Consider:

Two years ago, as a relatively unknown legislator from Fargo, he easily won the U.S. House seat from veteran Congressman Earl Pomeroy. In 2010, Berg pulled off the stunner.

Second, Berg ran in an overwhelmingly Republican state. How could he lose?

Third, he had strong support from every prominent North Dakota Republican officeholder, and attracted significant financial support from the national Republican senatorial committee and from big-spending independent super PACs that were aligned with his campaign.

Fourth, he had the benefit of running against President Barack Obama and the president’s unpopular health care reform. One of Berg’s campaign themes was to link Heitkamp to Obama and Obamacare.

Finally, the ballot was heavy with Republicans who are extremely popular among North Dakotans. Gov. Jack Dalrymple easily won, and Mitt Romney was the overwhelming favorite for president. If there were coattails, Berg slipped off.

That Heitkamp overcame what appeared to be impossible odds leads to two conclusions. First, she ran a brilliant campaign that early on put Berg on the defensive. He never recovered. Second, Berg’s strategy of hiding in the weeds rather than engaging in the hands-on retail politics North Dakotans expect worked against him. In other words, his campaign was so careful to manage his appearances, debates and public image that it amounted to mismanagement. That failure gave the Heitkamp campaign an opening to paint an unflattering image of Berg, and it stuck – so much so he did not even win his home county of Cass.

We extend our congratulations to Senator-elect Heitkamp. She earned the win fair and square. She made history as the only woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate from North Dakota. She won despite the fact that every major daily newspaper endorsed her opponent.

We wish her well because her success will be North Dakota’s success.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.