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Dems ready to 'fight back'

GRAND FORKS -- After a rough outcome of the 2010 election, U.S. Senate hopeful Heidi Heitkamp said North Dakota Democrats are ready for a fresh start and a new slate of candidates who could boost the party's profile in the state this Election Day.

Hundreds of delegates, pages and candidates gathered at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Friday, the first full day of business for the Democratic-NPL Party state convention that will conclude today.

Heitkamp, who will seek the party's endorsement to run for the Senate today, said Democrats are now heading into the campaign season with more excitement than in 2010 -- both because of the candidates they are endorsing and their chances for victory this November.

"I think people have now had an opportunity to see the kind of leadership we got after the 2010 election, and they're willing to push back and fight back," she said.

[b]'Return to reason'[/b]

Democratic-NPL spokeswoman Alison Kelly said Democrats across the nation benefited from a "huge swing" with their big victories in 2008. Republicans also benefited from that swing in 2010, when they swept into majority control of the U.S. House and greatly boosted their majority status in the North Dakota Legislature.

But after these dramatic changes, Kelly said the 2012 election cycle in North Dakota could mark a "return to reason."

"North Dakota can no longer continue to pass legislation without forethought and not address the issues, and our nation can't continue to be in this gridlock because people are getting more and more frustrated," she said. "I think with that, it's going to be a return to intelligent voting and reason and they're going to be able to look at which candidate suits them best."

Convention planning chairwoman Becky Ronkowski said it is now the time for Democrats to "rebuild things" and retake some of the offices picked up by Republicans in recent years, including two of the state's three seats in Congress.

She said that sense of urgency has helped build up momentum for Democrats in 2012. But lining up a keynote address by former President Bill Clinton, who will speak at the Alerus Center about 1 p.m. today, also has boosted the party's energy level this year, Ronkowski said.

"You can just feel the excitement," she said. "You can hear it in people's voices as they're talking out in the hall."

[b]Today's schedule[/b]

Delegates voted to endorse several statewide candidates Friday, including Ryan Taylor for governor, Tom Potter for insurance commissioner and Ross Mushik for treasurer.

Longtime former Sen. Byron Dorgan and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy both are expected to attend today's activities. They will help honor retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, whom the party is honoring for his quarter-century of service in the U.S. Senate with a 10:15 a.m. tribute event.

Dorgan also will deliver a nominating speech for his former aide Pam Gulleson, the lone candidate seeking the party's endorsement in the U.S. House race.

Clinton is expected to deliver the keynote address around 1 p.m.

Other events planned for today include the endorsements of candidates for superintendent of public instruction, public service commissioner, state auditor and lieutenant governor before the convention ends around 5:30 p.m.

Johnson is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.