BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Republican Rick Berg and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp wrapped up the most expensive U.S. Senate race in North Dakota history with a rush of campaigning Monday at restaurants, an engineering business and a civic club.
Heitkamp, a 57-year-old former state tax commissioner and attorney general, stumped the length of the Red River Valley, stopping in Park River and Grafton before heading south to Grand Forks, Mayville and Fargo.
Berg, a 53-year-old congressman trying to make the jump to the Senate after just one term in the House, toured a West Fargo engineering company before speaking to a civic club luncheon in Minot. He also planned visits with Republican volunteers in Bismarck and Fargo late Monday.
The race between the two has been the most watched in North Dakota, in part because Republicans are counting on a Berg victory to help them gain control of the Senate. He is competing with Heitkamp to replace Democrat Kent Conrad, who is retiring from the Senate after 26 years.
Voters also will choose a new U.S. House member to replace Berg. Republican Kevin Cramer is running against Democrat Pam Gulleson for the state's only House seat. If Heitkamp and Gulleson win, they would become the first women elected to represent North Dakota in Washington.
More than 83,000 North Dakota residents, or almost one-quarter of the expected election turnout, had already voted by midday Monday, Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office said. Jaeger said people joked to him about looking forward to the end of a constant barrage of campaign ads. In the Senate race alone, the candidates spent more than $8 million, and outside groups spent millions more.
"Everybody that I run into is ready to get back to normal, and not have to listen to any more of these," Jaeger said. "I think everybody is ready to have it over with."
Tuesday's ballot also includes the governor's race, in which Republican incumbent Jack Dalrymple is seeking his first full term after succeeding former Gov. John Hoeven when Hoeven was elected to the Senate two years ago. Voters also will be asked to resolve ballot initiatives that would protect farming rights, ban smoking in public workplaces and provide a five-year prison term for cruelty to cats, dogs and horses.
Dalrymple was opposed by Democratic state Sen. Ryan Taylor, a Towner rancher and the state Senate's Democratic leader. The campaign has focused on how best to manage North Dakota's economic growth from a western oil boom. Dalrymple says he's done a good job of balancing spending on public works with tax cuts, while Taylor says more state money could go to help local governments deal with problems created by oil-related development.
North Dakota has not had a Democratic governor in 20 years.
The other statewide races on the ballot are insurance commissioner, auditor, public service commissioner and treasurer — all jobs now held by Republicans — and school superintendent, an office that is coming open for the first time in 28 years.
Wayne Sanstead, a former Democratic state legislator and lieutenant governor, has been North Dakota's top school official since 1984. He declined to run for re-election, and Tracy Potter, a former Democratic state senator and U.S. Senate candidate, and Kirsten Baesler, a GOP-backed former Bismarck school administrator, ran to succeed him.
The farming rights initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment limiting the Legislature's ability to regulate "modern" farming and ranching, was put on the ballot by the North Dakota Farm Bureau. It has split North Dakota farmers, with the state's Farmers Union organization arguing the amendment is worded too expansively.
The anti-tobacco initiative would expand the state's current limits on public smoking by snuffing out cigarettes in bars, motels, public transport and any other workplace to which the public has access.
Backers of a measure to make extreme cruelty to dogs, cats and horses a felony punishable by five years in prison used photos of pets wearing posters bearing supportive messages to make their case and emphasized North Dakota's status as one of two states where cruelty to animals is only a misdemeanor. The other is South Dakota.
Opponents of the proposal, including the state's farm groups, said it was too narrowly focused and said they would introduce a more comprehensive anti-cruelty bill in the Legislature next year.