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Published November 01, 2009, 09:45 AM

GOP lawmakers: Hoeven 'realistic' on Senate race

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Republican state legislators and officials have had no better luck than anyone else in prodding Gov. John Hoeven for hints about whether he'll run against Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan next year.

By: DALE WETZEL, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Republican state legislators and officials have had no better luck than anyone else in prodding Gov. John Hoeven for hints about whether he'll run against Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan next year.

Four GOP lawmakers who raised the subject in a meeting with Hoeven in his Capitol office last week said the governor gave them no hints about his plans, although one participant said he believes Hoeven will make the race.

"I think he feels a responsibility to do it," said Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier. "Maybe I'm a little optimistic in my thinking, but I do believe he's giving it serious consideration."

Another participant, Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, said he did not believe it was necessary for Hoeven to announce his plans soon. "The longer he waits, it's OK," Kasper said. "The races are long enough the way they are."

Kasper described Hoeven as "a realist" about the job of taking on Dorgan, who has almost $4 million in his campaign treasury as he prepares to run for his fourth Senate term.

"He's got to weigh the time commitment. He's got to weigh the fact that he's going to be taken away from his duties as governor to a certain extent," Kasper said. "How hard will it be to raise funds? And the other thing is, does he have the fire in the belly to do it?"

Hoeven declined to elaborate about the meeting, saying that Kasper, Headland, state Rep. Wes Belter, R-Leonard, and Sen. Joe Miller, R-Grafton, also had wanted to discuss tax proposals. The four lawmakers are members of the Legislature's interim Taxation Committee.

"They were encouraging, and I appreciate it," Hoeven said. "I'll just leave it at that."

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Hoeven is unfailingly tight-lipped about the subject, even in conversations with political allies. Stenehjem said he has encouraged Hoeven to make the race, but says the governor has not given him any indication about which way he is leaning.

"I think he has a good chance of winning," Stenehjem said.

North Dakota's Democrats and Republicans are endorsing their statewide political candidates at their party conventions in March. Republicans are holding their convention March 19-21 in Grand Forks; Democrats are meeting in Fargo the following weekend.

Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect who has never run a statewide campaign, has said he will seek the GOP endorsement to run for the Senate. Sorum has not started raising money for his bid.

Dorgan has been preparing for the possibility of a Hoeven challenge, and has mentioned it for months in fundraising communications with campaign supporters.

Republican activists say Hoeven may be following the playbook of South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, who delayed announcing his successful 2004 campaign against incumbent Democrat Thomas Daschle, the Senate's Democratic leader, until January 2004.

North Dakota GOP activists say a Hoeven-Dorgan fight could rival the Thune-Daschle campaign in spending and national attention. Daschle spent $21.3 million and Thune $14.7 million in their campaign. Thune, who is up for re-election next year, already has more than $5.5 million in his campaign treasury.

For Hoeven to match Thune's fundraising prowess of six years ago, he would have to raise more than $40,000 each day, seven days a week, from Monday through the day of the next general election, Nov. 2, 2010.

Belter said Hoeven knows the difficulties of raising the money needed to compete against Dorgan.

"He was very objective and very realistic," Belter said. "He knows that trying to unseat an incumbent who has nearly unlimited funds is always a huge challenge."

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