Heitkamp won’t seek Senate seatHeidi Heitkamp will not seek the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S. Senate, she announced Wednesday, but she might make a bid for governor in 2012.
By: By Ryan Johnson, Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — Heidi Heitkamp will not seek the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S. Senate, she announced Wednesday, but she might make a bid for governor in 2012.
The 54-year-old former North Dakota Attorney General broke her media silence and ended two months of speculation that she might run for the position that Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., holds.
Heitkamp went on brother Joel Heitkamp’s KFGO radio show to announce her intentions, saying she wanted to thank everyone across the state and country who encouraged her to run.
“This has been an enormously personal decision,” she said. “It’s not one that I ever thought I would be confronted with.”
Heitkamp said she isn’t ruling out a run for governor in two years, calling the position “the absolute best job in the state.” She hasn’t held public office since 2000, when she unsuccessfully ran for governor against Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican who now is running for Dorgan’s seat.
“I just really love the state of North Dakota and I would love to serve the state,” she said.
Mark Schneider, chairman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, said Heitkamp would make a good governor candidate.
“All things being equal, I would be very surprised not to see Heidi declaring a run for governor in 2012,” he said. “And I think the people of North Dakota would be very pleased to see her run.”
But it’s hard to know what will happen in two years, Schneider said. “In one sense it’s just around the corner, but it’s forever in politics.”
“I was hoping that if she didn’t run for Congress that she would run for governor,” said state Rep. Louise “Weezie” Potter, D-Grand Forks. “She’s run for governor before so she knows what that’s all about, and who knows who her opponent might be.”
Schneider said Heitkamp’s decision opens doors for other potential candidates. State Sen. Tracy Potter, D-Bismarck, is the only announced Democratic candidate in the Senate race, but Schneider expects to see party “movement” in the next week or so.
“I think that there will be others that will step forward now that the path is clear,” he said.
North Dakota Democrats will nominate candidates during the March 25-28 state conventions in Fargo.
Heitkamp said she hadn’t planned on seeking the Democratic nod, but carefully considered her options after Dorgan announced in early January that he would not seek re-election. Her decision came down to what was most important, she said.
“When you have an experience like I have where you have really confronted a health challenge, you begin that process of saying, ‘What’s important to me?’” she said about her battle with breast cancer, which is now in remission.
Heitkamp’s husband, Darwin Lange, is a practicing family doctor who didn’t want to move, and she said she wanted to stay in North Dakota to be close to family and friends. Still, it was a tough call to make.
“I think you see that in the time span,” Heitkamp said. “If this were an easy decision for me, it would have been made a long time ago.”
Adam Jones, North Dakota Republican Party executive director, said Heitkamp’s decision didn’t come as a surprise despite a “wealth of encouragement” from Democrats.
“Rumors have been circulating for the past month or so that she would not run,” he said.
Her decision is somewhat of a sign of the times, Jones said.
“Something we’re seeing across the country is Democrats are jumping ship,” he said.
‘My life is in N.D.’
Heitkamp was urged by some Democrats to run against Hoeven, the anticipated Republican nominee for the Senate race. An unofficial Facebook group was created Jan. 5 to encourage Heitkamp to run, growing to more than 2,200 members by Wednesday.
A Feb. 12 Rasmussen Reports poll showed Hoeven leading Heitkamp 65 percent to 29 percent. Heitkamp fared better than Tracy Potter in the poll, who trailed Hoeven 17 percent to 71 percent.
When asked if she would have defeated Hoeven, Heitkamp said she thought she “had a shot” and didn’t consider the election to be a “foregone conclusion.” The campaign would have required $2 million or $3 million, which she said she could have raised.
Heitkamp will pledge support to the eventual Democratic nominee, she said, but it’s a tough time for the party.
“The political climate is not good for people in my political party,” Heitkamp said. “But the world turns and I think what people are really looking for is someone who is willing to stand up.”
Schneider said Heitkamp was right, but now is not necessarily a good time for Republicans, either.
“I think it’s bad for anybody running in this cycle,” he said. “People are fed up with politics and politicians.”
Jones said the election isn’t a given for the Republican candidate who secures the nomination during the March 19-21 state convention in Grand Forks.
“I don’t think being elected as a United States senator is ever an easy task,” he said. “We’ll run a strong and positive campaign regardless of who the Democrats put on the ballot.”
Heitkamp met with Senate and national Democratic leaders in the last two months to discuss her possible campaign, but did not meet with President Barack Obama. She said the meetings gave her a chance to voice hesitations about the race.
“I really impressed upon them that this is not something that I’ve ever sought out,” Heitkamp said, “and my heart and my life is in North Dakota.”
Johnson is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald,
which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.