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Published November 08 2012

Heitkamp: Cass made the difference (with video)

FARGO – Through a throng of jubilant supporters, someone called out what most of the room was thinking: “Senator Heitkamp!”

Heidi Heitkamp, hoarse from the final days of her campaign but jubilant herself, said the credit lay with the people cheering her on.

“To the extent people are calling this historic, to the extent people are calling this an upset, pat yourselves on the back,” she told a packed crowd at Fargo’s Teamsters Hall on Thursday morning.

It was the first of four planned stops throughout the state, the Democrat’s first public statements after her Republican opponent U.S. Rep. Rick Berg conceded the U.S. Senate race on Wednesday.

Heitkamp acknowledged the critical role Cass County played in her victory, which was decided by less than 3,000 votes. She carried Cass by nearly 9,900 votes, building a cushion that absorbed Berg’s advantages elsewhere.

“We know that Cass County made the difference,” she said.

She also struck a conciliatory tone after a campaign marked by withering attacks from both sides. Heitkamp praised both Berg and U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, a Berg backer, for calling her Wednesday after the results were finalized.

“Congressman Berg called me yesterday, and did a terrific job wishing us all well,” she said.

In remarks to reporters afterward, Heitkamp said she’s “probably still in shock” over the narrow win.

“You get to election night and it’s a close, close election, and you’re just watching it and literally not knowing until 1, 2 in the morning where this is going to cut,” she said.

Heitkamp said her first priorities in the Senate will be a farm bill and a fiscal deal that addresses the nation’s debt.

She said she’s committed to joining the Agriculture Committee, and hopes to spur action on the farm bill, which has stalled in the House.

Heitkamp also said she’s prepared to work with Hoeven, a political opponent in this campaign and the 2000 gubernatorial race Hoeven ultimately won. She said the two have a working relationship that dates back to Hoeven’s time running the Bank of North Dakota.

“I think we share a lot the same values,” she said, adding that she considers Hoeven a moderate who has shown willingness to work across the aisle.

She said her victory was driven by a focus on doing just that.

“I don’t think it was about personality,” she said. “I think it was in the end, someone saying ‘stop all the bickering. Stop the partisanship; sit down at the table and learn how to get along to solve your problems.’ ”

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