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Rep. Rick Berg to announce Senate run

Rep. Rick Berg to announce Senate run

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Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., plans to announce a bid for the Senate, and Democrats are working to draft a former aide of Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to run for the same seat.

According to sources close to Berg, preparations are under way for an announcement sometime next week,  likely Wednesday, though no date has been set.

Berg’s former deputy campaign manager Jonathan Casper has left his  role as legislative director to return to North Dakota to help with the campaign.

Berg spokeswoman Alee Lockman wouldn’t confirm a pending announcement, but said the freshman congressman would be in North Dakota all of next week on his break from legislative duties.

Lockman said Casper took a leave of absence beginning  Monday, and will be gone “for the foreseeable future.”

So far, Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk is the only announced candidate, but he said the announcement does not change his plans.

“I expected a very full field of candidates, and I knew people would get in the race,” Kalk said. “I fully expect a very challenging race all the way to the convention.

Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, also is mulling a run. Two calls and messages to him were not returned.

Berg, who had been in office for roughly four months, goes into the race with about $128,000 cash on hand in his political committee, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report.

Republican Party vice chairman Jim Poolman said Berg’s move is, in many ways, logical.

“It’s not unprecedented that a House member would run for the Senate. Byron Dorgan did it; Mark Andrews did it. In this case it just came sooner rather than later,” Poolman said.

Berg will be giving up his post on the influential Ways and Means Committee if successful.

Poolman doesn’t see that as a great loss.

“As a senator, he would have lot of relationships with the leaders in the House, and that would be helpful on both sides,” he said.

Democrats also are working  to fill the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

The state House Democratic caucus has drafted a letter to Pam Gulleson urging her to run for the Senate.

Gulleson, now a Rutland-area farmer and Farmer’s Union adviser, was most recently chief of staff to Dorgan and spent 15 years in the state Legislature.

Gulleson, 53, said she is giving a Senate run very serious consideration and hopes to make a decision within the next month in fairness to others who may be considering the race.

House Assistant Minority Leader Lee Kaldor, D-Mayville,  said her experience in working in both the state and the D.C. offices for Dorgan has given her a wealth of knowledge on all the issues facing the state.

“She knows the full gamut of Senate issues that you have to know, and she knows the office,” Kaldor said.

Kaldor said he and Dorgan have been talking to Gulleson about running for the Senate since Dorgan’s seat opened in 2010.

Berg’s intentions also raise questions about what will become of his House seat.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said he’s considering a run.

“I will definitely take a look at it if it’s open,” Carlson said.

When asked of his interest in the position Carlson said, “We’re politicians. Remember, it’s in our blood. Once you’re in there you try to keep advancing.”

Carlson said it’s important to fill the position with someone with the attitude there needs to be change in Washington because “going along to get along” doesn’t benefit the state.

State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt said she has been giving consideration to running for either the House or the Senate.

Schmidt said she met with several people on the subject during a trip to Washington, D.C. , in late March.

She said after the scheduled work of the trip, which was in relation to her work as president of the National Association of State Treasurers, she met with others.

“I met with Eric Cantor and several other congressional folks in Washington,” Schmidt said.

Those conversations weren’t entirely devoted to election opportunities, but she said she’s “been asking questions about different positions available to us who might run for office.

“I’m looking at all the options, asking all the questions and I’ve made no decisions,” Schmidt said.

Tax Commissioner Cory Fong, who won re-election to the position in 2010, also is considering a House bid.

Fong said his experience in state government has given him expertise on tax issues and growing the economy, something he sees as primary issues  for the nation.

Republican Party treasurer Bob Harms said he is still thinking about running for the House or Senate and will make a decision by the late summer.

(Reach reporter Rebecca Beitsch at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or rebecca.beitsch@bismarcktribune.com.)

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