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Published October 25, 2010, 07:27 PM

ND GOP Expects to Strengthen Hold in Legislature

North Dakota Republicans, who already control the state House and Senate by healthy margins, are expecting to strengthen their hold in next week's elections, partly because most GOP senators don't face Democratic opposition.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Republicans, who already control the state House and Senate by healthy margins, are expecting to strengthen their hold in next week's elections, partly because most GOP senators don't face Democratic opposition.

"I feel confident we're going to make some gains," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck. "We have excellent candidates out there, and these guys are working harder that I've seen candidates work before. They are absolutely getting after it."

Republicans now have 26 Senate seats to Democrats' 21 and have a 58-36 edge over Democrats in House seats. Twenty-four of North Dakota's 47 legislative districts are electing a senator and two House members next week. All three of each district's legislators represent the entire district.

Republicans are defending 10 of the 24 Senate seats on the ballot and 28 of the 48 House seats. Of the 10 incumbent GOP senators who are up for re-election, six have no opposition, while the seventh, Ralph Kilzer, of Bismarck, faces only an independent candidate, Garrett Whitecalfe. Kilzer represents District 47, which covers northwestern Bismarck and is heavily Republican.

Four Senate Democratic incumbents are not seeking re-election. Tom Seymour, of Minot, and Jim Pomeroy, of Fargo, are stepping down. Bismarck's Tracy Potter is running for the U.S. Senate, while Aaron Krauter, of Regent, a former Democratic Senate floor leader, resigned his seat to become state director of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency in Fargo.

Republican House candidates in two districts, which include Williston and Devils Lake, have no opposition. In five other districts, the two GOP House candidates face only one opponent instead of the customary two. It is normally difficult for single House candidates to win seats.

Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, the House's assistant Democratic leader, said he believed House Democrats would be able to maintain their numbers.

"I know a couple of spots where we just don't have candidates, and we're going to lose a couple of those," Onstad said Monday. "But I think we're going to hold our own."

The House Democratic floor leader, Rep. Merle Boucher, D-Rolette, is running for state agriculture commissioner and not seeking re-election. However, his District 9, which includes the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indian reservation, is solidly Democratic. Republicans are not running House candidates against the Democratic nominees, incumbent Rep. Tracy Boe, of Mylo, and Marvin Nelson, of Rolla.

Aside from being unable to find House candidates for District 9 or a Senate opponent for longtime Democratic Sen. Tim Mathern, of Fargo, Republicans were able to fill their legislative district slots. Mathern was first elected in 1986 and was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2008, losing to incumbent Republican John Hoeven.

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