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Published May 16, 2011, 04:02 PM

Rep. Rick Berg Announces U.S. Senate Bid

Open article for Berg's announcement video
North Dakota U.S. Rep. Rick Berg said Monday he will run for the U.S. Senate next year, starting a campaign for higher office less than five months after he became the state's first GOP congressman in three decades.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

Scroll down for announcement video

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota U.S. Rep. Rick Berg said Monday he will run for the U.S. Senate next year, starting a campaign for higher office less than five months after he became the state's first GOP congressman in three decades.

The Republican's announcement came in a video that was emailed Monday to supporters and posted on a Berg Facebook page and a newly created campaign website.

"With the support and encouragement of so many North Dakotans ... I'm running to be North Dakota's senator," Berg said in a statement emailed to supporters Monday.

His video echoes themes that Berg emphasized during his campaign for the House last year, including encouraging economic expansion and the repeal of a new federal health care law, which Berg described as a "government takeover of health care."

"The future of our nation hangs on the Senate's willingness to listen to the American people and work to get our country back on track, to stop the reckless spending, grow our energy sector and create policies that will rein in government and help create jobs," Berg says in the video.

Berg, 51, is seeking the seat that is being left open by the departure of incumbent Democrat Kent Conrad, who has said he will not run for re-election. Berg is beginning a 10-city campaign tour on Tuesday with stops in Fargo, Bismarck and Minot.

No Democrat has announced a campaign to succeed Conrad. Berg's only Republican rival so far is Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, who was elected to his job in 2008.

North Dakota Republicans will choose their favored Senate candidate at the state GOP convention in Bismarck early next year.

Mark Schneider, the state Democratic chairman, said Berg has "refused to be the independent voice North Dakota needs" during his short House tenure. Berg has voted to cut Medicare benefits and reduce federal aid for nursing home care, Schneider said.

"Berg has proven that he is far more interested in advancing his political career than standing up for everyday North Dakotans," Schneider said. "He has failed our state, and is the last person who deserves a promotion."

Kalk said Berg's entry into the race will not affect his own campaign. Kalk, who is a retired Marine, believes his military background gives him better insight into foreign policy and that his job as a state utility regulator will help him push energy development ideas beneficial to North Dakota.

"We're going to run our own game," Kalk said. "There's no question that we're going to work harder than anybody who will come out of the field."

One of Kalk's colleagues on the Public Service Commission, Republican Kevin Cramer, said he believes Berg has a strong leg up for the GOP endorsement. Berg defeated Cramer last year in a four-way Republican U.S. House convention contest as the party's favored candidate to oppose Pomeroy.

"I would never discount Brian's chances because he is a very hard worker, but I do believe the opportunity that this race presents for Republicans in North Dakota to have both Senate seats is going to prevail," Cramer said. "I think Rick wins that argument rather handily."

Berg's candidacy is critical to Republican hopes of gaining a majority in the U.S. Senate, where the GOP now holds 47 seats.

At least five Democrats, including Conrad, and Democratic-leaning independent Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut are not running for re-election next year. The latest announcement came Friday from Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., who said he would not be a candidate in 2012.

Berg won 55 percent of the vote last year in defeating incumbent Democrat Earl Pomeroy. North Dakota, which has only one House seat, had not had a GOP congressman since Mark Andrews in 1980.

On the same ticket, Republican John Hoeven, the state's governor for 10 years, got 76 percent of the vote in winning the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Byron Dorgan.

Conrad's departure gives North Dakota Republicans a chance to switch the state's formerly all-Democratic congressional delegation to a solidly GOP group within two years.

Before Hoeven and Berg won last year, Democrats had held a monopoly on North Dakota congressional power since 1986.