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Published November 07 2012

VIDEO: In emotional concession, Berg bows out of Senate race

FARGO – After a long night of watching agonizingly close results roll in, U.S. Rep Rick Berg conceded North Dakota’s tightly contested U.S. Senate race to Democrat Heidi Heitkamp on Wednesday afternoon.

The decision headed off a potential recount that could have cost tens of thousands of dollars and dragged the contentious campaign out for another month.

Speaking before the monthly luncheon gathering of the United Republican Committee of Cass County at Fargo’s Holiday Inn, Berg total a crowd of emotional supporters the margin of about 3,000 votes between him and Heitkamp was likely to hold up.

“There’s not much that’s going to change in that outcome,” he said.

He later told reporters he called Heitkamp that morning to congratulate her.

In a statement, Heitkamp thanked Berg for his service in Congress and his role in the race, and promised to represent all North Dakotans.

“I salute Congressman Berg for putting his ideas out there, and giving voters a clear choice in this election,” she said in the statement.

The vote tallies were close enough that Berg could have demanded a recount. And early Wednesday morning, Berg spokesman Chris Van Guilder said the campaign would wait until the results were made official next week before making any statements on the outcome of the race.

Berg told supporters he decided to sleep on the results to make sure everything had been entered properly in the late hours after the polls closed and evaluate the situation in the morning.

He said he saw little evidence of irregularities that would change the outcome, and that state election workers generally are very accurate.

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said a recount would have stretched into December and could cost about $15,000 to $20,000. The Berg campaign would have had to pay for it because the margin was not close enough for an automatic recount.

Robert Wood, an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Dakota, said conceding in the face of long recount odds let Berg end the race on a note of political grace.

“It’s much better to take the high road and to be gracious,” he said. “Looking like a good loser is something that North Dakota voters would value.”

In his remarks to supporters that struck a heartfelt tone, Berg thanked the crowd for their effort during the campaign.

He said he expected a different result but has no regrets.

“I am so proud to have been your candidate,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.”

He told reporters he’s not sure what he will do next or if he will pursue office again.

Berg’s U.S. House seat went to fellow Republican Kevin Cramer, who cruised to a comfortable victory over Democrat Pam Gulleson.

Heitkamp did not appear in public Wednesday. She has stops scheduled today in Fargo, Grand Forks, Fort Berthold and Bismarck.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502