Wednesday, August 29, 2012

North Dakota U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

North Dakota U.S. Senate

August 29, 2012
69 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Republican

My classification of this race is risky at the present time, because this particular election really does look like a Tossup. However, I think the fact that North Dakota is going to go pretty easily towards the Republican Presidential candidate in November is going to make it impossible for someone running for a federal race on a ticket with Barack Obama to win, even if she does fare much better than he does.

North Dakota is certainly quite Republican friendly in its state government elections, but until recently, the GOP had been quite frustrated in their inability to elect anyone to the two Senate seats and one U.S. House seat. Much of this may have to do with North Dakota's populist tradition and the fact that Democrats, especially incumbents, were able to win by promising federal largess. This streak ended in 2010 as Republicans easily won an open U.S. Senate seat and defeated a longtime incumbent Democrat to take over the at-large House seat.

Perhaps feeling the pressure of a GOP resurgence,facing a potentially difficult race, and with his name being part of the Countrywide Financial scandal, Democrat Senator Kent Conrad announced in early 2011 that he would not seek another term and would be leaving the job he had held since 1987. Republicans immediately considered this to be one of the best pick up opportunities anywhere in America.

Many Republicans were talked about as contenders, but the establishment favorite quickly became Congressman Rick Berg, who had just been elected statewide over the incumbent House member months earlier, and eschewed an almost certain reelection to try immediately for a promotion to the Senate. Berg would be formally endorsed by the state party at a convention, but still had to face an opponent, who had run unsuccessfully statewide a few times. In the June primary, Congressman Berg won nearly three fourths of the vote.

Democrats, who had initially been quite downbeat about keeping this seat were buoyed in November of 2011 when Heidi Heitkamp entered the race. A former state Attorney General, Heitkamp had lost a reasonably competitive race as her party's Gubernatorial nominee in 2000, when she was battling breast cancer. She and her brother both were somewhat familiar media figures in the state since that race, and with her candidacy, Democrats thought she could prove to be formidable, even if she was the underdog.

By recent accounts, Heitkamp has run a nearly flawless race thus far and some have questioned Berg's strategies. Despite the conservative nature of the state, the Democrat candidate is seen as a very likable person and strong campaigner. Independent polls this summer have shown everything from her up by one point to Berg being ahead by nine. A Heitkamp internal poll from late July claims she was ahead of her opponent by a 5044 margin, while Mitt Romney was also leading Barack Obama by 19 points in the state.

It is fair to say that at least some North Dakota voters will consider the federal appropriations aspect and cast a vote for the nominee of the party they think will be controlling the Senate next year. Heitkamp will also take a chunk of ticket splitters, who will also vote for Romney. However, can she get enough to actually win the race?

I am just skeptical of that. She will get a more than respectable share of the vote, but I think she is probably at least a couple points behind as of today, despite the momentum factor that seems to be working in her favor. With control of the entire Senate potentially hanging on this one seat, a seat that Republicans had for months almost considered a sure thing, money will pour in by the NRSC and other entities to do whatever it takes to bolster Berg. He may not be the perfect candidate, but the Republican label is likely to be help a bit this year. There will be much focus on the fact that Heitkamp had spoken out in favor of Obamacare a couple years ago. She has been trying to distance herself from that position during this campaign, but that's only going to work to a certain extent.

Berg campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 12 D, 9 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 42 D, 46 R