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Laundry List Of Senate Contenders In North Dakota

January 21, 2011

When discussion turns to the open Senate seat race in North Dakota, the question isn't who is going to run - it's who isn't.

Since Sen. Kent Conrad (D) announced earlier this week that he won't seek re-election, a plethora of names has been floated as potential contenders. And coming of Sen. John Hoeven's double digit win last year, Republicans appear ready to line up for the pick up opportunity.

"All I can tell you," said North Dakota GOP Chair Stan Stein, "is the field is wide open."

The list of potential Republicans is extensive, but already some tiers are forming. At the top of the GOP wish list are Gov. Jack Dalrymple, former Gov. Ed Schafer newly elected Rep. Rick Berg.

Dalrymple, who took over the governorship when Hoeven won the Senate seat, is also considering running for a full term as governor -- a decision that will have a big impact on the race. Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley (R), for example, is likely to run for whichever office Dalrymple decides against.

After those three, the list gets long very quickly. Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk has already jumped into the race and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is also eyeing it. So is Public Commissioners Chair Tony Clark, Tax Commissioner Cory Fong and state Treasurer Kelly Schmidt, who told Hotline On Call: "I definitely have not ruled it out."

There is also a long list of potential Democratic contenders, though most of them would likely start out as the underdog in the 2012 race. North Dakota Democratic Party Executive Director Joe Aronson acknowledged that Conrad retiring may make it tougher for Democrats to hold on to the race. "It puts us in a different situation," he said. But, he added, "we have a lot of talented people in our party."

Former Attorney General and 2000 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Heidi Heitkamp is considered a top potential candidate for Democrats, and her brother, Joel Heitkamp -- a former state senator who has a talk show -- has also been mentioned. Former state Sen. Tracy Potter, who ran and lost to Hoeven last year, could also run again. USDA Rural Development Director Jasper Schneider is another name people are talking about, as is state Sen. Mac Schneider and U.S Attorney Tim Purdon.

The problem for political news junkies is that there isn't likely to be much news on this front in the near future. Dalrymple is likely to take his time making up his mind and most of the others contenders are focused on North Dakota's state legislative session, which could last into May. For Berg, it would be politically foolish to start campaigning for the Senate the same month he was sworn into the House for the first time.

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