In what's poised to be an upset victory, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp holds a small but sturdy lead against Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., for the open North Dakota Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Kent Conrad.
With only 0.5% of precincts left to report vote totals and most of the state's Republican bastions in, Heitkamp's 1.2-point lead appeared unassailable, at least based on the votes left to count early Wednesday morning.
The Berg campaign released a statement at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday indicating it would not make any announcements--concessions or otherwise--until the state undergoes an official canvassing process, which "will certify the election and provide an official result," according to Berg spokesman Chris Van Guilder. This process is set to begin Friday, but a final decision may not come until next week after the Veterans' Day holiday when all the counties complete the canvassing process.
Republicans had initially considered this race an easy get, so Heitkamp's likely win is all that much more surprising. The matchup between Heitkamp, a former state Attorney General, and Berg, a first-term congressman, was close for much of the election season and was considered a toss-up by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Cognizant of running against the Republican grain in the red-shaded North Dakota, Heitkamp ran as a centrist and distanced herself from President Obama on issues key to North Dakota's economy, including energy and farming. First-term congressman Berg ran on a traditional GOP platform and Republican interest groups targeted Heitkamp for the instances she has supported Obama, most notably the health care law dubbed ObamaCare.
Heitkamp overcame big political hurdles in a state that went solidly for GOP nominee Mitt Romney and where President Obama is unpopular. Polling throughout election season showed Heitkamp and Berg neck and neck, due in part to what Democrats said was a remarkably well-run campaign and a likeable candidate in Heitkamp.
The surprisingly close race has gained national attention because it was initially projected to lean Republican. Just a few days before the election, Romney cut an ad supporting Berg and former President Bill Clinton, arguably Obama's high-profile surrogate, visited North Dakota to stump for Heitkamp.