Democrats: Heitkamp ahead of BergGRAND FORKS — New poll results released Tuesday show Democrat Heidi Heitkamp leading Republican Rep. Rick Berg by 5 points in North Dakota's U.S. Senate race.
By: Ryan Johnson, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — New poll results released Tuesday show Democrat Heidi Heitkamp leading Republican Rep. Rick Berg by 5 points in North Dakota's U.S. Senate race.
The poll, commissioned by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, shows 47 percent of likely voters support Heitkamp and 42 support percent support Berg, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
The Mellman Group conducted telephone interviews of 600 likely North Dakota voters Nov. 12 to 16, just days after Heitkamp’s Nov. 8 announcement that she will seek the Democratic endorsement to replace retiring Sen. Kent Conrad next year.
But Matt Becker, a spokesman for the North Dakota Republican Party, questioned the poll results. Election Day is still a year away, he said, and the Mellman Group is “a known Democrat polling operation.”
“We’re not surprised to see the Democrats scrambling to put out some more polling numbers,” he said. “They’re trying to convince the Obama fundraising machine in D.C. that Heidi Heitkamp is a viable
Mark Mellman, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C., polling firm, said his company does work for Democratic candidates, as well as Fortune 500 companies and public interest groups.
“But we are well known for our accuracy,” he said, including accurately calling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s victory in 2010 while most other pundits and analysts predicted Republican challenger Sharron Angle would win.
More than half of respondents, 52 percent, gave Heitkamp a positive rating for her job performance as attorney general, a position she held from 1993 to 2000, while 28 percent gave her a negative rating.
Poll respondents did not have the same positive view of Berg’s job performance since he was sworn into office in January. He beat former Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy last November by about 10 percentage points.
Just 28 percent of those surveyed gave Berg a positive job rating, while 56 percent had negative views of his time in office.
Mellman said North Dakota is a “pretty Republican state,” but its residents have proven “adept” at splitting their votes between both major parties.
All three members of Congress from North Dakota were Democrats for the 24 years preceding 2010, when former Sen. Byron Dorgan retired and Pomeroy lost his re-election bid.
“They know who they like and they know who they don’t like, and in this case they like Heidi Heitkamp a lot and they don’t like Rick Berg at all,” Mellman said.
Since Conrad said in January that he would not run again, national political analysts have generally believed that he would be replaced by a Republican.
The Fix, a Washington Post blog, has long classified the race as the most likely to switch parties next November — even after Heitkamp entered the race.
“We’re willing to hold open the possibility that this race is competitive, but it still seems like very much of a long shot at the moment,” Aaron Blake wrote Nov. 11.
But the recent “poll shocker” could change that, Blake wrote Tuesday. “If these numbers are anywhere close to legitimate, we have much more of a race in North Dakota than we anticipated.”
Berg and Heitkamp are the presumed frontrunners in North Dakota’s U.S. Senate race. Both face competition to win their parties’ endorsements at state conventions next spring, Berg from Duane Sand and Heitkamp from Tom Potter.
Johnson is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.