After weeks of speculation, Gov. John Hoeven told Republicans what they wanted to hear: he’s running for the Senate.
Hoeven made his announcement in front of a crowd of Republican supporters and politicians and behind a campaign sign reading Hoeven for U.S. Senate.
The packed crowd at the Doublewood Inn in Bismarck chanted “bring it on, John,” as he prepared to enter a race gaining more national attention after Sen. Byron Dorgan’s decision not to seek re-election.
Hoeven, America’s longest-serving governor, touted his successes in office, pointing to low unemployment and lower taxes, saying the same approaches that have worked in North Dakota should be brought to Washington.
Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect and political newcomer, had been the only declared candidate in the race.
In his speech, Hoeven criticized Washington on cap and trade, the stimulus, health care, and the deficit.
“Ladies and gentlemen, cap and trade will only hold back energy development and raise energy prices for hardworking American families.”
He also took jabs at Congress on health care policy.
“Washington’s approach is to put a 2,000-page bill between you and your doctor. Instead of government-run health care, let’s provide people with tax credits so you can chose your own health insurance plan and your own provider,” the governor said.
Hoeven told reporters he came to the final decision to enter the race during the holidays, before Dorgan made his announcement.
“The only difference I would say is that really just accelerated our time line on making an announcement,” Hoeven said.
He does not intend to step down from his post as governor, saying he is committed to his responsibilities in the office.
Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he is prepared to take over more responsibilities while Hoeven balances the campaign with the governorship.
“What’s going to be happening in the next nine months is that we’ll be running a governor’s office and we’ll also have a guy running for the U.S. Senate at the same time, and that means lots and lots of work for me and a lot of other people,” Dalrymple said.
A statement by the North Dakota Democratic Party was quick to address losing a veteran Democrat like Dorgan, and potentially replacing him with a freshman in the minority party.
Hoeven said his track record shows he can make a difference for North Dakotans.
Democrats, who have yet to name a candidate to replace Dorgan, accused Hoeven of being an opportunist, and wanting to leave office mid-term.
“Less than two years ago the governor asked the people of North Dakota to elect him as governor, and now he wants to move on,”
North Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Mark Schneider said in a statement. “We’re not surprised by the timing, considering that Hoeven has always changed his mind to best fit the political climate.
He did start out as a Democrat, after all.”
Several Democrats are being mentioned as possible Senate candidates.
Former attorney general and one-time Hoeven challenger Heidi Heitkamp said she is giving a Senate campaign some thought. Her brother, Joel, also said he’s considering the race.
Kristin Hedger, who ran against Al Jaeger for secretary of state, said she is considering a run.
Hedger, vice president for Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, said she has gotten pressure from the state Democratic Party to make a decision quickly.
“I think it’s the sooner the better from their vantage point,” said Hedger, 29, who will be 30 before election day.
But Hedger said the decision was a very personal one that would depend on the support of her colleagues and family, as well as ensuring other projects wouldn’t suffer.
“It’s the responsibilities already on my plate and analyzing how those will be taken care of,” Hedger said.
The race for North Dakota’s House seat is heating up as well. A number of Republicans have acknowledged they are considering challenging Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who is running for his 10th term in office.
Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer plans to make an official announcement on Thursday about his future political plans.
Commerce Commissioner Shane Goettle also is considering the race.
“There are a lot of moving parts and among the moving parts I’m considering my options,” said Goettle.
State Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, also said he was thinking about joining the race but did not give a timetable for a decision.
(Reach reporter Rebecca Beitsch at 250-8255 or email@example.com)