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Pomeroy talks election loss, future plans

BISMARCK (AP) -- Rep. Earl Pomeroy doesn't believe his support of federal health care legislation cost him his job, even though victorious Republican foe Rick Berg used the issue to hammer the incumbent Democrat.

After all, Pomeroy said, a number of Democrats, including South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, opposed the measure and advertised that fact in their campaign advertising -- and went down anyway.

"I don't regret voting for the health care bill, and I don't believe it was determinative in the election," Pomeroy said in an interview with The Associated Press. "My central purpose in Congress was not to play it safe, so I could stay there forever."

Pomeroy, 58, was defeated on Tuesday in his bid for a 10th term. Berg rolled up almost 55 percent of the vote.

Pomeroy called the result "decisive" and said he knew at the beginning of his race that he faced an uphill climb. His campaign's initial surveys had shown North Dakotans valued experience and an established voting record less in making their decision, he said.

"The polling captured fairly early a voter preference for someone new," Pomeroy said. "That was not related to Rick Berg or any other candidate -- just generically, they wanted someone new."

Pomeroy also said he would not run again for Congress, and doubted he would run for governor. Republican Gov. John Hoeven, who won his last two elections with more than 70 percent of the vote, was elected to the Senate last Tuesday and will not be on the ballot in 2012.

Pomeroy said he hoped to find work dealing with energy, retirement income or health care issues. He is an attorney by training, and Pomeroy did not rule out the idea of practicing law in one of those fields. He has kept up on the requirements needed to keep his law license during his time in Congress, he said.

Most of Pomeroy's adult life has been spent holding political office. He was elected to the House in 1992, after eight years as North Dakota's insurance commissioner.

"In a way, it's exhilarating to face a new chapter in life, and really be open to any proposition that offers fulfilling work," he said.

Pomeroy said he did not believe his election result would have been different if incumbent Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., had run for his fourth term this year. Dorgan, 68, announced in January he wouldn't seek re-election, and Hoeven easily defeated Democrat Tracy Potter for the right to succeed Dorgan.

On the night of the election, Pomeroy said he intended to prepare both victory and concession speeches, but he had time only to write one -- and his remarks assumed he had lost.

"We thought we could win, up until election night," Pomeroy said. "But in the end I was unable to get north of the mid-40s."

Berg's election helped give Republicans control of the U.S. House, and Pomeroy, who had touted the benefits of his seniority during his campaign, said it was "an interesting question" whether a minority Democrat with experience would have an edge over a freshman Republican who was part of the House majority.

After the city of Grand Forks was swamped by Red River flooding in 1997, he helped make the case for flood relief to a Republican-controlled Congress, Pomeroy said. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the House majority leader, Texas Rep. Dick Armey, who is a native of Cando, were helpful in getting aid, Pomeroy said.

"I feel like I was able to work effectively in the majority as well as in the minority," Pomeroy said. "Political affiliation matters, but when it comes to delivering for North Dakota, your ability to move legislation forward, and work with whomever you need to, that is the most important."

Pomeroy said he believes the last Democrat standing in North Dakota's congressional delegation, Sen. Kent Conrad, will seek re-election in 2012.

"He's the leader of our party, and we're going to unite around him," Pomeroy said.

Since Conrad was elected to the Senate in 1986, he has worked with two other Democrats in North Dakota's congressional delegation -- first with Dorgan, who was then in the House, and Sen. Quentin Burdick, and then with Dorgan and Pomeroy after Burdick's death in 1992.

Conrad said in a postelection statement that he would work with Hoeven and Berg in Congress.

"Our nation faces tremendous challenges that will require consensus and cooperation," Conrad said. "North Dakotans have always been able to count on their congressional delegation to form a united front and do what is best for our state."

Pomeroy said he believed North Dakota's new congressional delegation will be evaluated on whether "they can deliver the goods to meet the state's needs. Of course, that's an open question at this point."

"Kent is the most task oriented person I've ever met," Pomeroy continued. "He will focus like a laser on what needs to be done, and he will be prepared to work with anybody to get it done."