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DSU tries, fails to bring statewide candidates to campus for debate

Dickinson State University professors Suzanne Russ and Steven Doherty have fallen short in an effort to bring candidates in statewide races to campus for a debate focused on region-specific issues.

"We just felt that the issues in this part of the state are important to the well-being of the whole state, even if this is a less populated area," said Russ, who had been working to garner community support for the debate.

After talks in August with DSU President D.C. Coston, Russ said she began reaching out to candidates in local and state races, including U.S. Rep. Rick Berg and his opponent for the U.S. Senate seat, Heidi Heitkamp, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and his Democratic challenger for governor, Ryan Taylor, and U.S. House candidates Kevin Cramer and Pam Gulleson.

Taylor, Heitkamp and Cramer's campaigns were more receptive to the idea than their opponents, making a chance for a debate unlikely, Russ said.

Russ has sent a message to backers of the idea to let them know that a debate did not appear promising since there was no agreement amongst the candidates.

Doherty hoped a discussion at DSU would focus on energy, and environmental and social challenges impacting southwest North Dakota.

Although there may not be a debate in Dickinson, Chris Van Guilder, spokesman for the Berg campaign, said the issues will continue to be discussed during the last two scheduled debates, as well as during Berg's travels across the state.

"Rick, who grew up in western North Dakota in Hettinger, has strongly supported and works closely with communities like Dickinson, as evidenced by Mayor Dennis Johnson's endorsement of his campaign for the U.S. Senate," he said. "This is a critical election with major differences between the two candidates, while Rick will be a check on Obama's failed policies like Obamacare. Heidi Heitkamp has campaigned for Obama, endorsed Obamacare and the Wall Street bailouts, and will continue to support his big spending agenda."

Heitkamp's press secretary, Brandon Lorenz, said it's disappointing that there won't be a debate in Dickinson.

"What is going on in Dickinson and Williston is unique and challenging, and we felt like there deserved to be a discussion of the issues," he said. "We have a plan to deal with those issues and wanted to debate them so the voters could understand the differences between the two


Lorenz added that the Heitkamp campaign offered to extend an Oct. 15 debate on Prairie Public Television to include a discussion of issues impacting western North Dakota.

There was no response to the inquiry as of Thursday, Lorenz said.

Doherty has not given up hope that a discussion could still be squeezed in at DSU before the Nov. 6 election, if candidates change their minds.

He said the campus has been the site of other legislative forums, but a debate involving candidates of statewide races would be a first-of-its-kind at DSU.

"We want to try and allow the candidates to meet the students and reach the voters in this area, which has made important contributions to the state's economy," Doherty said. "So the invitation to come debate on campus is still out there for all of the candidates."