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First-time voters: Students have questions for candidate Berg

By Bryan Horwath North Dakota Senatorial candidate and current Congressman Rick Berg takes a moment to answer a question from seventh-grader Shannon Kirchen during a stop at Trinity High School in Dickinson on Monday morning.

Many high school students say they can't wait to obtain a driver's license, graduate, live away from home for the first time or choose a college or career.

Trinity High School senior Andi Lefor, however, can't wait to vote for the first time next week.

"I'm very excited," Lefor said after listening to North Dakota Senatorial candidate and state Rep. Rick Berg address her school Monday. "I've been waiting my entire life for this."

Locked in a tight race with former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp for the U.S. Senate seat Sen. Kent Conrad will be vacating, Berg is visiting 25 towns in six days as his campaign enters its final days. Berg spoke at the school's auditorium for about 15 minutes before fielding questions and joining students for lunch.

Lefor didn't waste much time asking her question -- what Berg believes is the most important issue for young Americans like herself.

"I think it's the deficit," Berg answered. "Today in Greece, they didn't balance their budget and they got upside down and had problems. Today, their interest rate is 18.5 percent. Just think if you wanted to buy a car and had to pay 18.5 percent.

"A strong economy is the most important issue for young adults today and, to make sure we have a strong economy, we need to get our spending and our budget under control."

Not unlike many others at her school, Lefor also expressed an interest in social issues, identifying hot-buttoned topics like the sanctity of marriage and abortion.

"I believe in the sanctity of life," Berg told his audience. "I believe that life begins at conception and I'm firmly prolife. I also believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman. These are important fundamental things.

"It's also frustrating for me to see government try to take away the freedom of religion. You take away freedom of religion, then then you lose freedom of speech and other freedoms that we have."

As the campaign reaches its final days, voters have been inundated with a barrage of advertisements from both the Heitkamp and Berg camps. The Heitkamp campaign recently publicly questioned Berg and his people for, they say, allowing banned "robo calls" and other questionable Super PAC-backed tactics to affect undecided voters in the state.

Reaching voting age just this month, Trinity senior Cody Heiser's question was: why have the campaigns been so negative?

"I think one of the problems is that there are a lot of outside groups who have gotten involved," Berg said. "I don't know how to say it more simply, but our focus is that we need to repeal Obamacare, get control of our deficit and control regulations and taxes. This is an important election and there outside that have a lot of money."

With its historically strong conservative base, North Dakota -- and its three Electoral College votes -- has long been considered a lock for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, but the race for Conrad's seat has garnered plenty of national attention. Democrats want desperately to hold onto Conrad's seat while the GOP views a potential Berg victory as key to encroaching on the Democrats slim majority in the Senate.

"We're feeling the momentum that's being felt nationally right now for Gov. Romney," Berg said before he addressed Trinity. "I couldn't be more fired up. We need to turn this country around and I think what we're doing here in North Dakota with our economy and our pro-energy policies make a good example for Washington."

Showing how much the Senate race here means to the Democrats, former President Bill Clinton spent part of Monday stumping for Heitkamp in Fargo.

"It's nice that (Clinton) is making a visit to North Dakota. It's good recognition for our state," Berg said. "But he was president 12 years ago. I wish President Obama and some of the other Democratic leaders now like Harry Reid (D-Nevada) would spend some time in North Dakota to see what we're doing here."

On local issues, Berg -- a native of Hettinger -- praised Dickinson city leaders, saying they've done a "great job from a planning standpoint" and offered his condolences for those affected by the recent fire that nearly leveled the Adams County town of Bucyrus.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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