Berg concedes; Heitkamp on to the Senate

2012-11-08T01:15:00Z 2012-11-08T21:19:11Z Berg concedes; Heitkamp on to the SenateBy NICK SMITH | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

Former Democratic Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp is North Dakota’s newest U.S. senator after one of the state’s closest election races.

Republican Rep. Rick Berg conceded the race Wednesday afternoon. The freshman congressman’s concession speech came during a luncheon in Fargo.

Unofficial results from the state’s 426 precincts showed Heitkamp with a 2,994-vote lead, edging Berg by a 50.25 percent to 49.31 percent margin.

Shortly after Berg’s speech, Heitkamp released a statement thanking her supporters as well as congratulating her opponent on a well-fought race.

“I want to thank Rep. Berg for his service and for being a part of our great democratic process. I salute Congressman Berg for putting his ideas out there, and giving voters a clear choice in this election,” Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp promised to take the level of effort put into her successful campaign and apply it to working for North Dakotans in Washington, D.C.

“I made this promise to every North Dakotan during the campaign and I want to make it again today: I will work as hard as I can to be a senator for each and every one of you. Thank you, and I’m proud to be able to represent North Dakota,” Heitkamp said.

Beyond her campaign statement, Heitkamp wasn’t making herself available to media Wednesday. The campaign was planning to crisscross the state today to meet with media.

Heitkamp will be joining a Democratic Senate majority that grew by two seats on Tuesday night. Democratic victories in Indiana and Massachusetts, coupled with victories by two independents expected to vote with the Democrats, gives the party an anticipated 55-45 majority.

In his concession speech, Berg thanked supporters for their backing while acknowledging Tuesday night’s results.

“With the ballots left outstanding, we see no reason to believe that the result of this election will change over the course of the official certification process. With that, I concede this election and congratulate Heidi Heitkamp, her family, staff and supporters on a hard-fought campaign,” Berg said.

Berg said the voters have spoken but much work remains for those elected to office on Tuesday.

“I encourage those on both sides of the political debate to support our elected officials as they make the necessary tough decisions to put our country back on track and restore the promise of the American dream,” Berg said.

Canvassing of election results begins on Friday and will be certified by the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office on Nov. 16. Heitkamp is set to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, who served for over 26 years.

Conrad’s office issued a statement shortly after Berg’s concession.

“Heidi’s victory is a win for North Dakota’s families, farmers, ranchers, small business owners, workers, energy industry and those charged with defending our state and our nation. It demonstrates conclusively that North Dakota common sense is alive and well,” Conrad said.

Conrad also congratulated Republican Congressman-elect Kevin Cramer and Gov. Jack Dalrymple on their Tuesday victories.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said it was an impressive, close Senate race.

“We knew it would be close. Congratulations to Heidi and I look forward to working with her,” Hoeven said.

Hoeven said a number of issues need to be addressed, including the national debt, the farm bill and energy policy. Despite the problems facing the country he struck an optimistic tone.

“I hope the election serves as a catalyst to get people on a national level to work together like we have in North Dakota,” Hoeven said.

The hotly-contested Senate race, which drew national attention and millions of dollars in campaign advertising, came down to the wire. Results from the final precincts took until shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday to come in. Unofficial results had Heitkamp with 160,752 votes to Berg’s 157,758. A total of 1,398 write-in votes also were cast, making up 0.44 percent of the vote.

North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Stan Stein released a statement lauding the overall strong showing by the state GOP on Tuesday night. Excluding the Senate race, Republicans swept all statewide offices on the ballot, won the U.S. House race and maintained two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.

“Rick Berg campaigned with class and dignity and we were proud to have him as our nominee. He has dedicated his life to serving the people of North Dakota and I’d like to thank him for the positive impact he’s had on our state,” Stein said.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said regardless of a candidate’s concession in a race, the office still certifies the results. Jaeger said there are still an unknown number of absentee and early voting ballots to be counted, but that, historically, the number of such ballots tends to be relatively small.

“To get 3,000 votes you have to have quite a few ballots,” Jaeger said. He added that for the remaining votes needed to be counted to “make much of a difference is highly unlikely.”

Election recount rules are outlined in state law.

An automatic recount is triggered when a candidate is within one-half of 1 percent of the leading vote-getter in a general election contest. A candidate who is more than one-half of 1 percent but less than 2 percent behind the leading vote-getter can demand a recount. The cost of conducting an automatic recount is picked up by the state while a candidate who demands a recount must post a bond.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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