ND Senate: Booming economy, close race

Associated Press
FILE -This photo Aug. 11, 2012 file photo shows North Dakota Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp speaking in Dickinson, N.D. What does a pair of Senate candidates do when their state is booming amid a sluggish national economy? They focus on personal style. That's the case in North Dakota, where Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican congressman Rick Berg are waging a surprisingly tight race for an open Senate seat. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel, File )
.

View gallery

MAYVILLE, N.D. (AP) — Off a dirt road a mile-and-a-half from the nearest town, Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp is standing in the loft of a barn, giving a campaign pitch heavy on personal appeal: She talks about her independent voice and a work ethic that she took to the state attorney general's office, all gleaned from a life firmly rooted in North Dakota.

"Ya know?" she says over and over, seeking connection to a crowd of mostly older Democrats.

Freshman Rep. Rick Berg, Heitkamp's Republican opponent, tends toward campaign riffs that are comparatively light on personal stuff, focusing instead on his conservative voting record, his concern about the nation's exploding debt and the "clear choice" voters face between Republicans and Democrats in this tight, tense election year.

The differing approaches are central to the candidates' neck-and-neck fight for an open Senate seat in a state with the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. And that's made for a race with unique dynamics as the rest of the country struggles out of recession and Republicans and Democrats duke it out for control of the closely-split Senate.

North Dakota is one of three states that have shifted from nearly sure Republican wins to tossups fewer than two months before Election Day. The others are Missouri, where Rep. Todd Akin's comments on "legitimate rape" make him less of a threat to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, and Indiana, where tea party star Richard Mourdock is having trouble pulling away from Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly. In addition, Republicans are scrambling to hold on to the Maine Senate seat of retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe and have seen Democrat Elizabeth Warren gain ground on Republican Sen. Scott Brown in a tightly contested race.

North Dakota is an economic outlier, too.

The nation's 8.1 percent jobless rate, a top issue for President Barack Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney, is not an issue here because North Dakota's booming energy industry has kept unemployment at roughly 3 percent. And unlike many Democrats, Heitkamp has long ties with the state's key energy industries: oil, natural gas and coal.

The anomaly of North Dakota has allowed Heitkamp to stay competitive with Berg in a race that, a few months ago, Republicans felt quite certain wouldn't qualify as, well, a race.

Heitkamp has survived a blizzard of ads, hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending from Republican-backed groups and the state's recent conservative tilt to pull into a virtual tie for the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad.

In the first of three scheduled debates, Heitkamp attacked Berg for what she said was her Republican rival's support for cutting taxes for wealthy people and turning Social Security into a private pension system. Berg countered that the Democratic-controlled Senate has done nothing to rein in the debt and has failed to help the nation's economy.

The event did little to shake the perception that the Senate race will be close.

Heitkamp has put her likeability at the center of her campaign.

Pushing back on early Republican attacks that highlighted her support of Obama and his signature health care reform law, Heitkamp launched an ad in which she speaks directly to the camera about surviving breast cancer. In the spot, she says she supported some, but not all, of the health care law's features. And she attacked Berg for supporting changes to Medicare.

In another spot that aired during the summer, Heitkamp stood in the middle of a wind-blown field and recounted her work fighting a "government land grab" during her time as attorney general. The ad refers to her successful efforts to stop the federal government from seizing North Dakota farmland through environmental easements.

Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to counter Heitkamp's folksiness with a steady stream of attack ads. In them, Berg ties her to Obama's policies, particularly health care. Outside groups, such as the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads, have attacked her tenure as attorney general, alleging she hired out-of-state lawyers to represent North Dakota in tobacco litigation in exchange for campaign donors. Heitkamp has strenuously denied the charge.

She also has tried to use the outside spending of Republican groups to her advantage. Unmentioned, of course, is support she gets from Majority PAC, a group backing Senate Democrats, which has spent more than $1 million to boost her chances.

"They think this Senate seat is an auction," Heitkamp often says in campaign speeches, referring to Republicans and groups like Crossroads, which has aired more than $250,000 in ads attacking the Democratic candidate. The seat, Heitkamp adds, "does not belong to Karl Rove and his billionaire friends."

Many of Heitkamp's supporters say her personal touch is what attracts them.

"She gets down to brass tacks, she really talks to voters," said Bill Bohnsack, a 66-year-old retired teacher from Mayville, N.D., who plans to vote for Heitkamp.

Berg, meanwhile, has generally stuck to linking Heitkamp to Democrats in Washington.

"I think it's clear at the national level between policies under President Obama ... she is aligned with him," said Berg, who is part of the 2010 freshman class that handed House control to Republicans.

He says he's just as personable a campaigner as Heitkamp and recounted participating in a parade in the Democrat's hometown in which he had so many GOP supporters in the back of his pickup truck that the floor bottomed out. One of his ads features a testimonial from an Army veteran who says Berg helped him get a Purple Heart military decoration; another focuses on Berg as a young child. It closes with footage of Berg and his 12-year-old son, Jack.

"North Dakota is a small state, we know people, we know each other," Berg said in an interview. "And I think this election will be won with grass-roots, person-to-person campaigning."

But warmth is not all that matters to voters here.

Tracton Lewis and his wife, Victoria, both 35, said they thought Berg was plenty friendly. But they drove from their home in Park River, N.D., to Fargo to hear Berg speak for one reason.

Heitkamp, Tracton Lewis said, "is too liberal for us."

___

Follow Henry C. Jackson Twitter http://www.twitter.com/hjacksonap

View Comments

Recommended for You

  • Ageless Hopkins pitches 50-50 Mayweather deal

    Bernard Hopkins, boxing's ageless wonder at 49, is one victory from becoming the undisputed world light-heavyweight champion and already daring unbeaten pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather to a showdown. Hopkins, the oldest major world champion in boxing history, won a split decision Saturday…

    AFP
  • Country music singer Kevin Sharp dies at age 43

    FAIR OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Sharp, a country music singer who recorded multiple chart-topping songs and survived a well-publicized battle with cancer, has died. He was 43.

    Associated Press
  • 74-Yr-Old Outsmarts Doctors. Reduces Her Wrinkles.

    The ultimate skin tightening regimen that is helping every day women achieve younger looking skin without breaking the bank.

    AdChoices LifeCellSkinSponsored
  • Ohio couple married 70 years die 15 hours apart

    NASHPORT, Ohio (AP) — A couple who held hands at breakfast every morning even after 70 years of marriage have died 15 hours apart.

    Associated Press
  • Autopsy to ID dead boy; body cast off side of road

    WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — All Massachusetts authorities could say for sure is that they found the lifeless body of a small boy, apparently cast off the side of a highway.

    Associated Press
  • 5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus

    As Christians worldwide gather for Easter to celebrate their belief in the death and rebirth of Jesus, researchers continue to delve into the mysteries that surround the man. The following are five questions about Jesus that, for now, at least, remain unanswered. In 2008, astronomer Dave Reneke…

    LiveScience.com
  • Sleeping California teen killed when car plows into apartment

    (Reuters) - A 16-year-old girl asleep in her bed was killed early Sunday when a suspected drunk driver careened into an apartment building in southern California, law enforcement officials said. The crash occurred at 3:15 a.m. local time in Palmdale, which is located about 63 miles north of…

    Reuters
  • Special Report: How the U.S. made its Putin problem worse

    By David Rohde and Arshad Mohammed WASHINGTON AND NEW YORK (Reuters) - In September 2001, as the U.S. reeled from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Vladimir Putin supported Washington's imminent invasion of Afghanistan in ways that would have been inconceivable…

    Reuters
  • Baby Prince George visits Australian zoo

    Baby Prince George stepped out in public with his parents on Sunday for the first time in Australia, for an encounter with wildlife at Sydney's Taronga Zoo. George, eight months old and third in line to the throne after grandfather Princes Charles and father William, stole the show as his parents…

    AFP
  • One-Step Retinol Treatments For Women Over 50

    The simple way to boost the anti-aging results of this powerful ingredient for younger looking skin in just one step without breaking the bank. 

    AdChoices LifeCellSkinSponsored
  • The Cheerleader Murders

    For five long and very strange years, death haunted tiny Dryden, NY, a town near the Finger Lakes where a plague of car accidents, suicides, and even grisly murders involving two popular cheerleaders just kept mounting up.

    The Daily Beast
  • Play

    Married couple found dead in Garfield Ridge

    A man and woman both in law enforcement were found dead Sunday morning in the 5300 block of South Austin.

    WLS – Chicago
  • Palestinians mull handing territory 'keys' back to Israel

    Palestinian negotiators have warned they may pass responsiblity for their territory back to occupying power Israel if peace talks remain stalled, a senior Palestinian official said Sunday. The official said the Palestinians told US peace envoy Martin Indyk on Friday that unless Israel releases…

    AFP
  • New Zealand says yes to Nigella despite US exclusion

    New Zealand officials have granted a special visa to celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, who has admitted cocaine use, in an apparent confirmation she has been blocked from entering the United States, according to a report. US authorities declined to specify why Lawson was stopped from flying from…

    AFP
  • Blackhawks' Seabrook banned three games

    Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook was banned for three games on Sunday for a hit that levelled St. Louis forward David Backes the night before. The NHL said that Seabrook was suspended "for interference and charging" against Backes in game two of their NHL Western Conference first-round…

    AFP
  • Nevada range war: Western states move to take over federal land

    The tussle over Cliven Bundy’s 400 cows – grazing on federal land, although he refuses to pay the required fees now amounting to more than $1 million – sharpens this debate, which has featured state legislators, county officials, environmentalists, and federal judges (all of whom have ruled against…

    Christian Science Monitor
  • Anti Aging Creams of 2014

    The ultimate skincare breakthrough formulated to help women achieve younger looking skin without spending money on surgery or injections.

    AdChoices LifeCellSkinSponsored
  • 'This Week' Panel: Are Evangelicals Out of Touch With Mainstream Views?

    Despite major changes in public opinion in recent years, Rev. Franklin Graham, son of perhaps the most famous American preacher of all time, Billy Graham, reiterated his strong opposition to gay marriage and gay adoption today on ABC’s “This Week.” As a part of a...

    ABC News
  • Wie's win snaps LPGA title drought

    Kapolei (United States) (AFP) - American Michelle Wie won her first LPGA title since 2010, firing five-under par 67 for a two-shot victory in the Lotte Championship. Wie had six birdies, and not even a three-putt bogey at the final hole at her home course, Ko Olina, could dim her joy at her third…

    AFP
  • Play

    Palmdale Teen Dies After Vehicle Slams Into Her Home

    A 17-year-old girl was killed early Sunday when a vehicle slammed into the home in Palmdale where she was sleeping. Dave Mecham reports for the KTLA 5 Morning News on April 20, 2014.

    KTLA - Los Angeles
  • Drone attacks kill dozens of Qaeda suspects in Yemen

    Aden (AFP) - Weekend drone strikes in Yemen killed more than 40 suspected Al-Qaeda militants, including 30 on Sunday, days after the jihadist network's Arabian Peninsula offshoot vowed to fight against Western "crusaders".

    AFP
  • Fox executive fired over Flight 370 charity email

    NEW YORK (AP) — A veteran Fox executive who used her company email account to plan aid for loved ones of the missing Malaysian airplane's passengers has been fired.

    Associated Press
  • 'Capt. America' tops box office for third week

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Captain America continues to vanquish box office foes, triumphing in ticket sales for the third consecutive week and dominating over megastar Johnny Depp's new movie.

    Associated Press
  • Revealed: 10 Best Credit Cards of 2014

    What card offers up to 5% cash back? And which one offers 24/7 concierge service? See the best credit cards of 2014. Apply online, quickly & securely.

    AdChoices Credit KarmaSponsored