By Ernest Scheyder
WILLISTON, N.D. (Reuters) - Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a moderate Democrat, said on Wednesday she will not run for governor of the second largest oil-producing state, preferring to work in the Senate to end the U.S. ban on crude exports and shape other energy policies.
The decision marks a victory for national Democrats, who had feared Heitkamp's entry into the gubernatorial race would complicate efforts to retake the U.S. Senate from Republicans in 2016.
By opting to stay in Washington, Heitkamp signaled she wants to carve out a niche on energy issues, using North Dakota's prominence as a top oil, coal and wind energy producer to wield influence on crafting of U.S. energy policy.
"It's critically important that our energy future and energy security not be a partisan issue," Heitkamp told Reuters. "We believe there's a growing group of people who wants to get things done in Washington, D.C."
Heitkamp said the end of a U.S. ban on crude exports was her top priority, adding she would renew efforts in the Senate to battle the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to curb the use of coal for power generation.
The U.S. renewable fuel standard, which mandates the amount of biofuels used in transportation fuels, should be defended even though "the EPA has messed it up pretty badly," Heitkamp said.
"For me, leading the charge on all of these initiatives is important to make sure we have an energy policy that works," said Heitkamp, who was elected to the Senate in 2012 and lost a gubernatorial bid in 2000.
Heitkamp announced her decision not to run for governor in a Wednesday morning interview with her brother, radio personality Joel Heitkamp, on KFGO radio.
"I think I could win, but at the end of the day, where can I best serve?" Heitkamp said.
Governor Jack Dalrymple, the Republican incumbent, surprised political observers last month by opting not to run for re-election.
Heitkamp said her own decision not to run should clear the field for other Democrats. No Republicans have announced.
Heitkamp was an early supporter of Hillary Clinton in her bid for the Democratic nomination for president in the 2016 campaign.
(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)