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Published April 27, 2011, 02:47 PM

Kalk Begins US Senate Bid; Colleagues Prefer Berg

As Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk prepared to begin his U.S. Senate campaign Wednesday, his two Republican colleagues on the commission said they are supporting freshman U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., as their favored candidate next year.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — As Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk prepared to begin his U.S. Senate campaign Wednesday, his two Republican colleagues on the commission said they are supporting freshman U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., as their favored candidate next year.

"It's not intended as anything against Brian, and certainly not as a slap," said the commission's chairman, Tony Clark. "I would say the same thing about myself in comparison to Rick."

Kalk kicked off his campaign Wednesday night in Fargo and told supporters they will hear complaints that he hasn't paid his dues and can't raise enough money. He said he won't be outworked and planned appearances in 19 towns in the next four days.

"I only know one way to campaign," Kalk said. "We will be in every town, every county, every nook and cranny in North Dakota."

Clark and Kevin Cramer, both of whom are former chairmen of the North Dakota Republican Party, are among more than 80 signers of a letter urging Berg to seek the seat being vacated next year by incumbent Democrat Kent Conrad.

The roster includes most GOP members of the North Dakota Legislature, where Berg formerly served as the Republican state House majority leader. It was circulated by Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, the chairwoman of the North Dakota House's Education Committee.

"To the degree that anybody is entitled to anything in politics, Rick Berg has certainly earned the right of first refusal," Cramer said. "That's not to say Brian Kalk is a bad candidate. He's a fine candidate ... but I think Rick Berg has positioned himself to be a better candidate."

Berg, 51, defeated Cramer last year for the Republican endorsement to run for the U.S. House. He went on to defeat incumbent Democrat Earl Pomeroy, who had been in the House for 18 years.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Berg said he was considering the race, while disagreeing with speculation that he is likely to run.

"Obviously, my intention was not to run for the Senate when I ran for the House," Berg said. "The situation changed, obviously, when Sen. Conrad decided not to run for re-election. The dynamics are different than they were in November, or even in early January."

Kalk, 45, established a committee in January to explore a U.S. Senate bid shortly before Conrad, who was first elected to the Senate in 1986, announced he would not be running for another term.

Kalk said he had expected competition for the Republican endorsement to run for the Senate. He said the decisions of Cramer and Clark to support Berg do not affect his own plans.

"I tell you what, this is America. God bless them," he said.

Kalk has been a public service commissioner since 2008, when he was elected to his first six-year term. The commission regulates utilities, coal mining, grain elevators, land reclamation and auctioneers, and determines the sites of pipelines and wind energy projects.

A native of Bottineau, Kalk is a retired Marine and former professor at North Dakota State University, where he taught political science, logistics and natural resource management. Kalk has a doctorate in natural resource management from NDSU.

Kalk referred to his military background on several occasions Wednesday.

"Marines have always been outnumbered, and we always get the job done," he said.

Fargo state Sen. Tony Grindberg, a vice chairman of the North Dakota Senate's Appropriations Committee, is also mulling a bid for the GOP Senate endorsement. Grindberg said he was not approached to sign the letter urging Berg to run, but that he probably would not have done so had he been asked.

"Rick's a friend. If Rick decides to run, that's great," Grindberg said. "The more, the merrier."

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Associated Press Writer Dave Kolpack in Fargo contributed to this story.

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