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Published January 11, 2010, 07:17 PM


BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven began his run for the U.S. Senate on Monday with a call for lower taxes, less debt and federal tax incentives to prod business growth and energy production.

In a speech prepared for delivery Monday night at a meeting of local district Republican organizations, Hoeven, 52, declared he will seek the Republican endorsement to run for a seat now held by Democrat Byron Dorgan, who is not running for his fourth term. Recent polls showed Hoeven leading Dorgan in a hypothetical U.S. Senate race.

The governor's speech was critical of "cap-and-trade" energy legislation and a federal health care overhaul proposal that Hoeven said would saddle state governments with billions of dollars in extra costs.

"Washington is setting a level of debt on our children and our grandchildren that will burden them for generations," Hoeven said in his prepared remarks. "Instead, we need to reduce the tax burden and create the kind of business climate that will enable our small businesses throughout America to invest, hire people and grow our economy."

He suggested a menu of tax credits that would allow people to "choose their own health care insurance and their own health care provider" instead of relying on "government-run health care."

Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect and political newcomer, was the only declared candidate in the race until Hoeven entered it Monday. Both Republicans and Democrats had expected Dorgan, 67, to run for re-election, but the incumbent announced last week he wanted to teach, write books and pursue other opportunities.

Dorgan's decision means Democrats will have to defend open Senate seats in at least four states in what could be a challenging election year. They now hold an effective 60-40 majority in the Senate — enough to break Republican filibusters — if they and the chamber's two independents, who align themselves with Democrats, stick together.

Hoeven is considered a moderate Republican and has pushed issues in the North Dakota Legislature that have been supported by Democrats, including expansion of a health-insurance program for poor children and higher salaries for public school teachers. He is in his third term, which he won in 2008 with 74 percent of the vote, and is the nation's longest-serving governor.

North Dakota Republicans say the soaring federal deficit, President Barack Obama's health care initiative and support for energy regulation have made things difficult for the state's all-Democratic congressional delegation — Dorgan, Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomeroy.

Pomeroy has opposed "cap-and-trade" energy regulation, which sets a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and gives companies authority to trade the rights to emit them, and has introduced legislation meant to halt possible EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.

Hoeven said the cap-and-trade proposal "will only hold back domestic energy development and raise energy prices for American families and businesses."

The state's Democratic Party chairman, Mark Schneider, said that if Hoeven were to win the Senate election, the state would have "a freshman senator in the minority party."

"We're not surprised by the timing, considering that Hoeven has always changed his mind to best fit the political climate," Schneider said. "He did start out as a Democrat, after all."

In a February 1996 letter to newspapers, Hoeven declared he was a Democrat, praised Dorgan and his North Dakota Senate colleague, Kent Conrad, and spoke disparagingly of efforts by "overly partisan members of the Republican Party to cast me as one of their own."

At the time, Democrats were trying to recruit Hoeven as their candidate to run against then-GOP Gov. Ed Schafer. Hoeven eventually declined the race and became active in Republican politics.

North Dakota Republicans will endorse their preferred candidate for governor at the state party's convention in Grand Forks March 19-21. The Republican endorsement would mean Hoeven would be guaranteed a spot on the state's June primary ballot. Any candidate could file petitions to run in the primary, although primary challenges in both the North Dakota Democratic and Republican parties are rare.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.