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Oban wins District 35 senate seat

MIKE McCLEARY/Tribune

District 35 senate candidate Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, middle, shares her excitement with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, left, D-N.D., and supporter Kayla Pulvermacher after realizing Tuesday night she defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Margaret Sitte. 

District 35 Democratic-NPL Party challenger Erin Oban ousted first-term Republican state Sen. Margaret Sitte on Tuesday by a nearly 17 percent margin, capping off one of the most expensive 2014 legislative races in the state.

With all six precincts reporting, unofficial results gave Oban nearly 58.2 percent of the vote to Sitte’s 41.4 percent.

Oban’s victory over the incumbent Sitte gave the Democrats a toehold in the Bismarck legislative delegation, which had consisted entirely of Republicans since 2010.

“I’m very humbled and shocked to be honest,” Oban said upon word of her victory. “I was expecting a very close race.”

The former educator serves as executive director of Tobacco Free North Dakota. Previous roles before the state Senate race included time as a member of former Rep. Earl Pomeroy’s staff and in Ryan Taylor’s unsuccessful 2012 gubernatorial run.

Oban thanked Sitte for her service and said she now has “a lot of learning to do” to get up to speed prior to the 2015 session in January.

Oban, a first-time candidate, was drawn to the race in part by Sitte’s push of a concurrent resolution in 2013. The resolution was a single sentence right-to-life amendment that also appeared on Tuesday’s ballot as Measure 1.

Oban said, as a Democrat, she’s ready and willing to work across the aisle with her Republican counterparts from Bismarck and across the state. She reiterated what she’d said often on the campaign trail: She didn’t believe Sitte had been open to working with people with opposing viewpoints. Oban said this is likely what set her apart from her opponent and appealed to District 35 voters.

“I think it just goes to show that people are looking for representatives that are willing to work with other people,” Oban said.

Among Oban’s top priorities for her term are education, infrastructure and property tax relief.

The District 35 seat was a top state Senate target by the Democrats and one of the most expensive legislative races in the state. Oban’s campaign received more than $58,000 in contributions to Sitte’s $38,000. This doesn’t include several thousand in 48-hour contributions also poured into both candidate’s races.

Sitte thanked District 35 voters for their support.

“The voters have spoken,” Sitte said. “I thank the people of District 35 for letting me represent them for four years.”

Sitte said it was too soon to consider whether or not she’d run for office and be active in politics in the future.

“I have no idea. I’ve won before, and I’ve lost before. Elections don’t define me as a human being,” she said.

Sitte was elected to the Senate in 2010. In 2002, she was elected to the House and served one term.

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

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