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N.D. pours money into legislative races

BISMARCK -- Most people tracking politics in North Dakota this fall know Democrats and Republicans are duking it out over who will control the state Senate, and gleanings from political contribution reports bear that out in a big way.

BISMARCK -- Most people tracking politics in North Dakota this fall know Democrats and Republicans are duking it out over who will control the state Senate, and gleanings from political contribution reports bear that out in a big way.

Democrats need to win only three races to take over the Senate.

The state Republican Party has injected nearly $13,000 into Sen. Tim Flakoll's behalf, as he attempts to retain his District 44 Senate seat in Fargo. In all, Flakoll has raised at least $23,000 total in donations of more than $200.

And the GOP's devotion to retaining the seat held by Sen. John Andrist, R-Crosby, is also evident. All but $600 of Andrist's $16,000 reportable donations came from the state party or the Senate Republican Caucus. His opponent is Rep. Dorvan Solberg, D-Ray, who is trying to knock off Andrist and jump to the upper chamber.

Solberg has raised about the same amount as Andrist, with $4,500 of it coming from Sen. Kent Conrad's political action committee, DAKPAC.


The political action committees controlled by the state's all-Democratic congressional delegation have put at least $33,000 into all legislative races.

TV ads

In south central North Dakota's District 28, where Republicans hold all three seats, the Democratic-NPL Party has given its Senate candidate, Alan Bergman of Jud, $15,000, and the district's Democratic ticket is running television ads based out of Bismarck TV stations.

That's something District 28 Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, said he's never seen, noting that his rural district is so big that the ads broadcast from Bismarck reach only halfway across the district.

"It's interesting. I've never had it where my opponents are out there buying TV ads," he said.

But he compliments the Democrats for a positive campaign.

That's not the case in District 44. The two campaigns -- or their political parties -- have engaged in a battle of direct-mail pieces to voters in the district, with Democratic-NPL Senate candidate Allan Branstiter compared to a pig at a trough in one GOP brochure.

State GOP Chairman Gary Emineth chuckled about the piece Friday, saying it had come from brainstorming at party headquarters after they read Branstiter's on-line responses to a Project Vote Smart questionnaire in which they say he endorsed widespread tax increases.


'Inaccurate, irresponsible'

Branstiter, an Iraq war veteran now attending North Dakota State University, has given as good as he's got, Flakoll said, complaining that the District 44 Democrats have sent out three direct mail pieces just in the last week that he complains were "inaccurate and irresponsible." In one, he said, the Democrats even blamed District 44 House member Donald Clark for a bill that was in play when Clark

wasn't even in office.

Flakoll said even the Democrats' Senate minority leader, Dave O'Connell, apologized to Flakoll for the state Democrats' campaign, telling Flakoll, "somebody didn't do their homework."

"We knew we were going to be targeted," Flakoll said.

Another Senate battle is in northeastern North Dakota, where Republicans have targeted Harvey Tallackson of Grafton, who is in his 80s and has been in the Senate since 1977. The GOP's much younger challenger, Joe Miller of Park River, has gotten about $15,000 from the state party in cash or in-kind assistance.

In Jamestown, the Democratic party and the Senate Democratic Caucus have put no less than $8,000 into the efforts by John Grabinger to knock off Sen. David Nething, R-Jamestown, who's been in office since first being elected in 1966. Nething has raised at least $10,000, but has no influx from the state party coffers, judging by reports available Friday.

It's not the first time the parties have poured tens of thousands of dollars into a few coveted legislative districts. Two years ago, Democrats spent at least $24,000 trying to break the GOP's decades-long hold on the three seats in Dickinson's District 37, and still failed. And Republicans pumped more than $40,000 into Bismarck's District 35 to try to hold the three seats there. But Democrat Tracy Potter barely squeezed out the Republican hopeful in that race.


Selzler confident

Democratic-NPL Executive Director Jamie Selzler says the GOP is in for a shock when the voting results come in. While Republicans are focusing almost entirely on hanging on to the Senate, he's confident Democrats can take away several seats in the House as well.

Republicans now outnumber Democrats in the House 61-33.

"When we wake up Wednesday morning, I think they'll be very surprised at what's happened in legislative races," Selzler said.

In Fargo and Grand Forks, Democrats have high hopes for districts that they think have either begun trending Democratic, or which will be dominated by Obama-inspired young Democrats. They hope to knock off not only Flakoll but District 44 House member Blair Thoreson and Grand Forks District 42 Rep. Don Dietrich, two members even some Republicans consider iffy for success on Tuesday.

Democrats have also spent money to juice up Minot legislative candidates' campaigns in hopes of breaking the GOP monopoly in Districts 38 and 40, where two veteran Republicans are retiring, Selzler said.

In Bismarck's all-Republican District 30, home of the Senate majority leader, Sen. Bob Stenehjem, another Democratic Iraq war veteran, Chris Ebertz, is working hard in an uphill battle for the Senate, Selzler said. Ebertz is also helped by the district Dems' two "incredibly hard-working and organized" House candidates, Carol Christianson and Casey Skovran.

The Democrats have also put over $4,000 into the House candidacy of Audrey Boe Olsen of Turtle Lake, whom they consider a good prospect in another currently all-Republican enclave, District 8.


And, Selzler, said, several factors are making Democrats hopeful in District 14, which covers a large section of the middle of the state, from near Bismarck to east of Harvey. Voters in Harvey want their own legislator, he said, and currently none of the three Republicans in District 14 are from there. Elsewhere in 14, people around Steele, N.D., are upset that the town's nursing home is closing and may be blaming the GOP incumbents, Selzler said. The party put $1,500 into the race of House candidate Karen Volk of Harvey

Cole writes for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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