North Dakota's senior Senate seat has been out of Republican hands for a quarter of a century, thanks to Democrat Kent Conrad. This November, that is likely to change.
Conrad's retirement this year has put into play a seat that Republicans are considered favored to recapture for the first time since his 1986 election.
Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the state's former attorney general and unsuccessful gubernatorial nominee in 2000, is facing off against Republican Rep. Rick Berg.
North Dakota determines general election candidates based on a statewide primary election. Last month, the state held such an election, which Berg won by a 2-to-1 margin, while Heitkamp was unchallenged. Her brother Joel, a former state senator and a statewide radio personality, declined to enter the race.
It would be no small feat for a Democrat to follow Conrad, who was re-elected four times and won his last race with 69 percent of the vote in 2006. Like colleagues Jon Tester of Montana and Max Baucus of South Dakota, Conrad has survived as a western Democrat based on his likeability and record of success.
Polls show Berg comfortably ahead in the race against Heitkamp. According to the political polling Web site Real Clear Politics, he holds an average lead of at least five percentage points based on the most recent polls.
Out of four polls taken in the past two months, Heitkamp is ahead in only one, a Mason-Dixon poll in early June that found her ahead by a single point.
Berg, a state legislator since 1984 and a former majority leader and House speaker, was elected to Congress in 2010. So far, he holds the critical edge in fundraising. According to Federal Election Commission records, he has $1.6 million in the bank, more than twice the $760,000 that Heitkamp has in her accounts.
As a freshman congressman, Berg wouldn't address the issue of a Senate campaign until Conrad's unexpected retirement announcement in February. He entered the race only after North Dakota GOP officials circulated a petition drive urging him to run.
Picking up the seat would put Senate Republicans closer to their goal of taking over the chamber. The party currently holds 47 seats.
by RTT Staff Writer
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