With a population of just over half a million and an unemployment rate of 3%, politics plays out differently in North Dakota. Issues that don’t resonate with voters on a national stage, like the failure of the House to pass a Farm Bill, are of primary concern to North Dakota voters. Although solidly Republican when it comes to voting for a president, they have had a Democratic Senator for over fifty years. For this reason, the Senate race between current Representative Rick Berg (R) and former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) has shaped up to be a hotly contested race for control of the Senate with national groups on both sides pumping millions of dollars to prop up their side and run ads attacking the other.
Old-fashioned retail politics might be more effective, though. In a small state like North Dakota, personalities tend to be more important than they might be elsewhere. Heitkamp has tried to downplay her support of President Obama and his how nice she is. One supporter embodied the attitude perfectly when he said, “I don’t necessarily agree with her, but I trust her.”
Speaking to the New York Times, Berg explained what he would rather focus on: “Everyone’s pretty likable. The issue is not about a personality contest. This whole thing kind of boils down to, do you want someone who’s going to fight against President Obama.” Berg has been trying to pivot to national issues and how North Dakota should be a lesson for the rest of the United States.
New polling data released Friday shows that the race is still very much up in the air. It shows Heitkamp up 4% with a margin of error of 4% and 8% of people undecided. This means the candidates are virtually tied with a sizeable portion still waiting to be swayed. But, as Berg was quick to point out, this poll was funded by the Democratic Party and the company that conducted it (Stone Research Services) was the same one that showed Obama winning the state in 2008 by 8 points. It’s hardly the most trustworthy data. Still, with just over a month to go, the solidly Republican state’s open U.S. Senate seat is anyone’s game.