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Bismarck state Sen. Tracy Potter announced in Fargo Friday that he will be seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Potter is the first Democrat to seek the seat. Gov. John Hoeven, who announced in January, and Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect, are seeking the Republican nomination.

“There’s an open United States Senate seat. It needs a challenger, it needs to be represented. Both parties need to be represented,” Potter said.

Potter said he knows most people view the race as a David  and Goliath situation, but as Potter points out, “David won, and with one well placed rock.”

And he plans to place himself carefully, in the center.

Hoeven has been a very good governor, Potter said, a moderate who has supported some Democratic initiatives. But in an attempt to reach out to more Republicans, he’s abandoned the center, heading further to the right as he attends tea parties.

“As he abandons the center, the center becomes open,” Potter said.

It is for this reason, Potter said, there is a chance he could  win.

“He’s very popular; he’s extremely popular. Like I said, I like him.

But once that popularity fades because he’s not representing a consistent position over time, he could fall fast.”

Potter has been successful in past races. He points out he was able to win the state Senate seat in a largely Republican district.

“There’s not another elected Democrat within 60 miles of here,” he said. The key to that, he said, was winning over independents.

The Hoeven campaign won’t be changing its strategy now that there is a competitor, said Don Larson, manager for the campaign.

“We want to get the word out across the state about the progress we’ve made and how we can bring that message to Washington,” said Larson. “We take the campaign seriously. The governor views it as a job interview. You have to get out there and ask people for their vote.”

On the issues

Potter said he considers health care a human right, but sees the states as having a more effective role in providing it.

“If the federal government basically assisted North Dakota, we could come up with our own solution.”

In terms of the economy, Potter said job creation isn’t as big of an issue in North Dakota now, but the state needs to watch to make sure it’s not the tail end of a national trend.

The major problem is the deficit, he said. Potter classifies himself as

a Keynesian.

“In good economic times the government should run at a surplus. In bad economic times the government should run at a deficit. The problem is we run at a deficit in the good times, and then there’s no where to go. We need some kind of fiscal restraint in Washington.”

On energy, Potter said the cap and trade issue is essentially dead, but said the idea of a market for carbon credits makes some sense to him.

Potter said he’s supportive of the coal and oil industries and wants to maintain support of research into clean coal technology.

He said both industries are creating jobs, but there needs to be evaluation for the future.

“Even though the Bakken is  a tremendous resource, we have to remember that it will eventually play out. We have to figure out how we transition our economy,” he said.

In terms of the military and war effort, Potter said we need to

maintain the strongest quick-strike military, but that military should not be used to occupy other countries.

Potter said he was supportive of the war in Afghanistan, “but 10 years later, we’re still going to be there, guarding their streets,” he said, adding that he would be supportive of a draw down.

State Senate race

Potter’s original intent this election cycle was to seek re-election for his state Senate seat in District 35.

The Republican nominee for the Senate seat, Margaret Sitte, said in a release that she was surprised by his choice and had been looking  forward to a debate on the issues.

But Sitte may not be out of luck. The District 35 Democrats have postponed their state Senate nominating convention until after the state convention in late March. If Potter loses the party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate seat, he’ll still have an opportunity to run for his current seat—something Potter said he would do if he loses the nomination.

The 59-year-old Potter has served one term in the state Senate. He holds his bachelor’s and master’s in history and is president of the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation in Mandan.

(Reach reporter Rebecca Beitsch at or 250-8255.)