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Published November 12 2012

Forum editorial: Rick Berg gracious in defeat

It’s never pleasant to lose a close, hard-fought political campaign. Sometimes in the bitterness and disappointment, graciousness is a loser, too.

Not so with Congressman Rick Berg, who lost the North Dakota U.S. Senate election to former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp by an unofficial 3,000 votes. Berg waited until early Wednesday afternoon before conceding the race, and he did so with style and grace, and with some of the genuine emotion he did not display during the long campaign.

When the polls closed last Tuesday, the race appeared to be closer than it was. There was some hope in the Berg camp that thousands of absentee ballots might make the difference, but that turned out to be unlikely. Both campaigns waited for the delayed tally to come in from Burleigh County (Bismarck). It seemed possible a big win in Burleigh could tip the scales to Berg. But in the end, Heitkamp prevailed in the other big population counties and in more than enough other locations to seal the victory.

Berg’s team was right to wait until it was determined by his people and by experienced vote-counters that the arithmetic, no matter how it was jockeyed, would not work for the congressman. It was reported he had been in contact with Heitkamp and her campaign, so they knew he was waiting to be assured the night was hers.

By Wednesday morning there was no doubt. Berg scheduled a news conference, and with his wife and son beside him, conceded the election to Heitkamp. He said he’d called her before the concession statement and congratulated her. He could have held on for a recount or until the vote was official. That would have put the state through an exercise that would have extended a campaign that most North Dakotans were ready to put behind them. It’s likely some of his campaign staff and his ardent supporters argued for a recount. It’s tough to let go.

In the end, it was a final class act in a political drama that started more than two years ago when Berg was tapped to be the candidate for the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He won the 2010 election over veteran Congressman Earl Pomeroy. It was the first step for Berg on the road to the U.S. Senate.

It appears his Senate bid was his last political step on that road, at least for now. He said as much to reporters after his concession. He did not completely close off the possibility of seeking political office again, but he said he hopes to get active in the private nonprofit sector.

Berg has a good record of public service in the state Legislature and the U.S. House. It would be a shame if he never again sought elected office. However, it is not difficult to understand that after the bruising Senate campaign he wants none of it for a while.

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

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