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New conservative ad draws questions

GRAND FORKS - The latest television ad attacking Democratic incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy "would be funny if it weren't so disturbing," Pomeroy spokesman Brenden Timpe said Thursday.

GRAND FORKS - The latest television ad attacking Democratic incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy "would be funny if it weren't so disturbing," Pomeroy spokesman Brenden Timpe said Thursday.

By now, commercial breaks are already flooded with ads about Pomeroy and Republican challenger Rick Berg as the state's tight U.S. House race comes to an end. But this ad stands out -- mostly because it claims North Dakota has a "reeling" economy.

Crossroads GPS, the Washington group behind the ad, began airing its criticism of Pomeroy on Wednesday and plans to continue running the ad on North Dakota stations through Election Day.

Berg spokesman Tom Nelson said the claim of a "reeling" economy doesn't add up to what Berg himself has been touting during his campaign.

"I've been traveling with a guy all summer who said North Dakota's economy is the envy of the nation," he said.

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Still, Nelson said he thinks Crossroads GPS "got half the ad right" -- the half that criticizes Pomeroy's vote for the stimulus package and his support for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"We've talked about that all summer," Nelson said. "The country's going in the wrong direction and, in all seriousness, it does threaten the state of North Dakota's economy in the long run."

In a written statement, Timpe said the ad is a "cookie-cutter" attack -- a reference to the fact that Crossroads GPS is airing the same ad in seven other states attacking other incumbent House Democrats.

Timpe also criticized the group for its funding from Karl Rove, former advisor to President George W. Bush, and its refusal to disclose the identities of donors.

"Next time Karl Rove wants to funnel secret money to North Dakota to influence our elections, he ought to visit our state first or at least pick up one of our newspapers," Timpe said in a written statement. "If he did, he would know that North Dakota's economy is doing quite well, thank you very much, and Earl has been a strong partner in that progress."

Timpe told the Herald that it's the latest in a line of similar nationally funded ads that have attacked Pomeroy all year, especially this spring before he cast a vote in favor of health care reform.

"But their intention to try and buy North Dakota's House seat has never been as evident as this one," he said.

'Reeling somewhat'

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North Dakota's strong economy has drawn national attention as the state coasted through the recession largely unscathed.

On Wednesday, a new report from the Beacon Hill Institute said North Dakota ranked No. 1 in the country in terms of economic competitiveness.

And preliminary numbers for September show the state still has the country's lowest unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last month, 13,714 of the 368,184 residents in North Dakota's labor force were unemployed -- an overall rate of 3.7 percent, well below runner-up South Dakota, which had a 4.4 percent unemployment rate.

But Jonathan Collegio, communications director for Crossroads GPS, said the ad is still relevant.

"Unemployment in North Dakota is higher than at any point it's been in the last 10 years," he said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the state's unemployment rate swelled to a recent high of 4.4 percent in 2009, the highest rate since at least 2000.

"Relative to the historical North Dakota economy, it is reeling somewhat," Collegio said.

But a slightly revised version of the same ad is targeting seven other Democratic U.S. House incumbents who represent states that had much higher unemployment rates in September -- including Minnesota (7.0 percent), Indiana (10.1 percent) and California (12.4 percent).

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Still, Collegio said North Dakota's job market "is significantly worse than it was over the last term of Congress" and that the state's economy has seen a "very negative impact" from the $3 trillion of new federal debt in the past two years.

"We believe it's an accurate ad that gets at the heart of the matter, which is Earl Pomeroy siding with Washington Democrats instead of North Dakota voters," he said.

Nelson said the Berg campaign has "no control" over the group's advertising purchases and can't decide whether the ad should continue to air in North Dakota.

"I'm not going to sit here and talk about an outside group's ad that I had nothing to do with," he said. "The people will judge it for what it is."

Johnson is a reporter at The Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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