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Fedorchak doesn't rule out challenging Heitkamp for U.S. Senate seat

BISMARCK—North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak didn't rule out a run against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp Friday, Jan. 12, but said it's "very unlikely" she'd try to unseat the Democratic incumbent this year.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he's not running for the U.S. Senate and will likely run for re-election instead.

The disclosures from two statewide elected Republicans came a day after Rep. Kevin Cramer announced he wouldn't run against Heitkamp, the only Democrat elected to statewide office in a state President Donald Trump won by 36 points. Instead, Cramer will run for re-election in the U.S. House.

Former Gov. Ed Schafer, who slapped down any rumors he's considering a run himself, said Cramer's decision has "broken the logjam" for the 2018 race.

"I think there were some people sitting out there waiting to see what Kevin was going to do," he said. "We'll see what happens."

Only one Republican has officially thrown his hat in the ring: farmer and state Sen. Tom Campbell of Grafton.

Fedorchak said she has considered a run against Heitkamp, whose recent vote against the tax bill, Fedorchak said, was an indication she "doesn't represent North Dakota values."

"This is a really important race and I think we need a very strong candidate to take her on," Fedorchak said in a voicemail message to a Forum News Service reporter.

But Fedorchak said she hasn't been able to reconcile the duties of a senator with her obligations as a mother of three children.

"(I) really just think it's important to be present for them during these critical teenage years," she said. "I would say it's very unlikely that I would be pursuing that race."

Fedorchak was a senior advisor for Schafer and state director for U.S. Sen. John Hoeven. She was appointed to the three-member PSC in 2012 by then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple was elected to a six-year term in 2016.

The PSC regulates utilities, licenses grain elevators and is responsible for siting power plants and transmission lines, among other duties.

Fedorchak's husband, Mike, was recently named the state director for Americans for Prosperity-North Dakota, a conservative political group that has criticized Heitkamp's tax vote.

Stenehjem, a longtime state lawmaker turned attorney general, lost his bid for governor during the 2016 Republican primary to Doug Burgum. He said he'll announce his 2018 plans soon.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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