Heitkamp Emerges as Leading Democratic Contender in N.D.

Posted January 6, 2010 at 2:06pm

With Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) expected to announce Wednesday afternoon that he is not running to succeed retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), several other Democrats began to surface as potential contenders in the open-seat race.Among the leading names being floated for Dorgan’s Senate seat is former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) who lost to Gov. John Hoeven (R) in the 2000 gubernatorial race. Heitkamp was diagnosed with breast cancer midway through that race.Supporters have already started a Heitkamp for U.S. Senate Facebook page that has over 700 members.Hoeven is expected to run on the Republican side, and he would be the favorite if he does.Two other well-known North Dakota public figures have also been mentioned as potential candidates: Heitkamp’s brother, Joel, a former state Senator and host of a popular radio show, and MSNBC host Ed Schultz.Schultz said on MSNBC this morning that he had been contacted by a leading North Dakota Democrat about a run. Schultz said he was “flattered and honored— but “I can’t say that I’m even considering it right now.— He did not, however, explicitly rule it out.The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has not spoken to Schultz about the race.North Dakota Senate Minority Leader David O’Connell (D) said both the Schultz and Heitkamp names are well-known across North Dakota and any of the three would be capable of raising the money necessary to mount a serious statewide campaign.O’Connell also noted that one of Schultz’s close aides, Vern Thompson, served in the state Legislature and was the executive director of the state Democratic party earlier this decade. Thompson, said O’Connell, “knows just about everybody— in North Dakota political circles and has the contacts that could help Schultz.“I’ve never seen him back down from a fight, the harder the punches are thrown the more effective he’s become,— O’Connell said of Schultz. “And Heidi is that way, too.—Some Democrats, however, are not ready to let Dorgan go. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee advocacy group launched a “Please Stay Byron— online petition that has already exceeded 1,000 signatures.