WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published July 12, 2012, 08:28 PM

ND Sees Record Number of Ads in US Senate Race

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Betty Smokov got so fed up watching political ads on television Thursday morning that she couldn't wait to tend cows and work in her garden.

By: James MacPherson, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Betty Smokov got so fed up watching political ads on television Thursday morning that she couldn't wait to tend cows and work in her garden.

"I turned off the TV and went out and picked beans," said the 79-year-old Smokov, who lives in central North Dakota.

The tight, closely watched U.S. Senate race between former attorney general and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Congressman Rick Berg might be heating up both in the state and on the national stage.

But for many North Dakotans, it's already tiresome.

They're seeing an unprecedented level of political commercials in an election that's destined to play a big role in which party controls the Senate next year, said Mark Jendrysik, a University of North Dakota political science professor.

"And if they think they're being bludgeoned now with attack ads, just wait until a month before the election," he said.

He said the race likely will be the most expensive in state history, Jendrysik said. Indeed, Heitkamp's campaign revealed Thursday that she had raised nearly $1 million in the second quarter

In addition to Heitkamp's and Berg's own war chests, special interest groups and political action committees are funding ads that "beat each other up so that they don't have to do it themselves," Jendrysik said.

"Heidi and Rick are both good people, but I don't approve of the way they're running each other into the ground," said Smokov, who raises cattle with her husband, Paul, on a 1,750-acre ranch north of Steele. "I wish they'd just tell us what they're going to do for us in North Dakota."

Heitkamp told The Associated Press on Thursday that her own ads have focused on her priorities and values, saying "I'm not taking responsibility for anything I haven't paid for."

Berg was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment, said Chris Van Guilder, a campaign spokesman.

Heitkamp also said she knows that the attack ads don't sit well with rank-and-file North Dakota residents, who aren't used to the onslaught.

Ironically, the candidates and their positions already are largely well-known in this sparsely populated state, Jendrysik said.

For nearly three decades, Democratic "Team North Dakota," a title given to retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, former Sen. Byron Dorgan and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, represented the state in Washington.

But after November's election, none of the state's three-member congressional delegation will have more than two years of experience in Washington. It also will be North Dakota's most junior representation in Congress for more than 60 years, as Republican Sen. John Hoeven won Dorgan's seat in 2010.

Smokov said she's a Democrat, but has voted for Republicans as much as Democrats over the past 50 years.

"I've crossed over more times than not," Smokov said. She said she hasn't made up her mind on who to vote for in November to fill Conrad's seat.

Recently, Heitkamp has been criticized in outside-party ads for supporting President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, and has countered with her own ad that highlights her fight with breast cancer a dozen years ago.

"When you live through that, political attack ads seem silly," she said in the ad.

"This is a nasty business and I've been through some nasty stuff," Heitkamp told the AP. "I'm doing this because of my desire to serve."

Heitkamp, a former tax commissioner, said Thursday the race right now is "neck-and-neck."

"When you see this level of outside interest, clearly it's a very tight race," she said.

But politics remain a local business, if the candidates' apparent strategy is any indication — a battle to see who is the more small-town, salt-of-the-earth North Dakotan.

Heitkamp points out in an ad that she worked her way through college on a road construction crew in southeast North Dakota. A Berg ad touts that he has hauled bales of hay and worked with cattle in southwest North Dakota.

Rancher Paul Smokov, 88, said that kind of information likely resonates with voters in a state that prides itself as having a work ethic as good as any.

Smokov himself was busy Thursday cutting hay in sweltering temperatures, watering cows and dealing with a power outage from the previous night's storm.

"It's good that they talk about their roots and their work ethic. And it's a plus they know about tough times," he said. "I just hope whoever gets to Washington doesn't forget it."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.