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U.S. Senate race heats up in ND

BISMARCK -- The race for North Dakota's next U.S. senator is starting to heat up.

On Wednesday, North Dakota Democrats publicly encouraged a former state legislator and staffer of Sen. Byron Dorgan to enter the 2012 Senate race.

Former Rep. Pam Gulleson, D-Rutland, said it was an honor for her peers to make the request.

"I'm giving it full consideration. I have not made a decision at this point," said Gulleson, who worked for Dorgan as state director and chief of staff. "It's one that I hope to make sooner rather than later."

Also Wednesday, a Republican source close to Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., said he will likely announce as early as next week his intentions for the seat being vacated by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

Republican Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk has already announced he is entering the Senate race.

Joe Aronson, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, said he isn't sure when further Democratic announcements for state races would occur.

"We're just very excited folks are inching closer to making an announcement and getting into these races," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me to see people get in sooner rather than later. Obviously they're big decisions."

North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Stan Stein said he also expects Republicans to begin making announcements "fairly quickly" after Berg declares his decision.

"I think it's going to be a pretty exciting 18 months or so here in North Dakota politics," he said.

People are engaging a lot earlier in the process, and there's a lot of interest and enthusiasm out there, Stein said.

"People have been coming out and want their voices to be heard, which is what it's all about," he said.

Gulleson said her work as a state legislator, farmer and Dorgan staffer has given her a good overview of the issues if she decides to run for the


"I've spent a lot of time working on, I think, some of the really critical issues facing the state, including energy development, renewable energy and water issues," she said.

Gulleson grew up on a dairy farm near Oakes. She graduated from North Dakota State University and spent years working as a licensed nutritionist. She served in the state Legislature from 1992 to 2008.

She and her husband, Bill, have three sons who are involved in the family farming business.

Dorgan said Wednesday that he would "certainly want to campaign for her" if Gulleson entered the race. He said Gulleson is likeable, a quick study and tenacious about making sure things get done and get done right.

"She'd be a tremendous asset for our state if she decides to run for the Senate," he said. "She knows North Dakota like the back of her hand because she's traveled every bit of it working in my state office."

Conrad said he also supports Gulleson, saying she would be "a strong voice for North Dakota" and an "exceptional"


Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, said it would be "history making, precedent setting and long overdue" for a woman to represent North Dakota.

The only woman to represent the state in the U.S. Senate was Jocelyn Burdick, who was appointed to fill a vacancy caused by her husband's death. She served for a few months in 1992.

Republican candidate Kalk said Gulleson would be "a very credible candidate."

"But my focus is 100 percent on the Republican nomination, period," he said.

Another big state contest for 2012 -- the race for governor -- isn't moving as quickly, with no one declaring candidacy yet.

"It's just simply too soon to make an announcement of any kind on the governor's plans," said Amy Lunde, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.