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Published August 08, 2011, 02:03 PM

Berg Support of Debt Deal Prompts Sand to Challenge Him For Senate

The perennial congressional candidate announced today he will once again vie for the chance to represent North Dakota on Capitol Hill – officially declaring his candidacy for the U.S. Senate race in 2012.

By: Kristin M. Daum, Forum Communications

Maybe the fourth time will be the charm for Republican Duane Sand?

The perennial congressional candidate announced today he will once again vie for the chance to represent North Dakota on Capitol Hill – officially declaring his candidacy for the U.S. Senate race in 2012.

That means Sand will challenge Rep. Rick Berg for the GOP nomination next spring. (Berg announced in May he would seek the Senate seat, rather than run for re-election to the House.)

Veteran Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad will retire at the end of his term in 2012, leaving his seat up for grabs and opening the door for Republicans to win a lock on the state’s congressional delegation as the Democrats previously had for nearly 20 years.

Sand has been weighing another congressional bid since April and has had noticeable fundraising numbers so far this year. Originally, Sand said he was considering the Senate race, but after Berg announced, Sand – like Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk – backed off in favor of the House race.

In the weeks since, Sand said he’s traveled the state and met with hundreds of North Dakotans – but only one person advised him to run for the House instead of the open Senate seat.

“And that person was Rick Berg himself,” Sand told The Forum today.

Sand said Berg called him a week before his Senate announcement in May to suggest Sand ought to run for the House seat – not the Senate.

“But I take my cues from people I work with and people I talk to around the state, and it took me several months to get a sense of where things stand,” Sand said to The Forum today. “I’m convinced this is the right decision.”

Sand, 46, is a former Naval officer and an avid tea party supporter. He also serves as chairman of the North Dakota Taxpayers’ Association, and is one of the lead sponsors of a state petition to repeal North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law.

Last week, Sand essentially confirmed his intentions for the Senate race through an elaborate teaser video on his new Youtube page.

The 56-second web ad creatively weaves together speeches and statements from top politicians, pundits and TV personalities talking about the spending crisis. Meanwhile, words on the screen seek to condemn Berg’s recent vote in favor of the debt deal.

The dialogue is set against the backdrop of ominous music – ending with MSNBC talk show host Dylan Ratigan asking (in a dramatic echo): “Who will step up for the future of this country?”

Duane Sand believes he’s the man for that job – confirming his candidacy through a statement released today.

“Last week’s debt ceiling abomination sealed it for me when Mitch McConnell and Rick Berg misled us with the debt ceiling deal,” Sand’s campaign statement said. “We sent Berg to Washington to cut the size of Government. Instead he’s voted with Nancy Pelosi almost 40 percent of the time since arriving in Washington. For that he expects North Dakotans to promote him?”

Sand’s statement continued, “Conservatives will have a clear choice in this race between a big-spending candidate handpicked by the same Washington establishment that gave us this debt ceiling bill, and a candidate committed to Constitutional principles, smaller government, and rolling back Obama’s radical agenda.”

Sand told The Forum he would not have supported the debt-ceiling package last week and he was “disappointed” Berg did vote for it.

“It’s not the right answer,” Sand said, advocating spending cuts over more debt. “If this bill actually cut spending the way we needed it to, we wouldn’t need to raise the debt ceiling. … Congress should be voting against anything that adds debt.”

“You need to lead by example and take responsibility of your actions,” he added.

Berg’s campaign responded to Sand’s candidacy this afternoon with a cordial – yet general – statement.

“The great thing about the democratic process is that anyone can get involved,” Berg spokeswoman Alee Lockman said. “Rick’s focus has always been and continues to be on best representing the people of North Dakota, working to change Washington’s broken culture of unsustainable spending and getting our country back on track.”

“Rick and Tracy are concentrating on running a positive, grassroots campaign and listening to the people of North Dakota,” Lockman added.

Sand previously ran unsuccessfully against retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad in 2000 and against Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy in 2004 and 2008.

So what makes this time different? Sand said it’s exactly that: Timing.

“Running in 2008, it was like rowing upstream,” he said. “The Obama wave made for a difficult campaign environment.”

But, the political situation changed in 2010 with the rise of the tea party movement, which attracts social and fiscal conservatives. Sand said that movement is “alive and well,” and he believes that energy could provide a valuable boost to his latest campaign.

“The will of the people will get us through the process,” Sand said.

Sand acknowledged Berg has more money to spend and more organization in terms of the campaign operations, but he voiced confidence and optimism nonetheless.

“This is an open seat,” Sand said. “Rick is not the incumbent. He’s choosing to give up his newly elected congressional seat – of which he is on the House Ways & Means Committee – to run for an open seat. This is a wide open race.”

In terms of the dollars, Sand took in more than $131,600 between April 1 and June 30. He reported about $68,000 in cash on hand going into July and nearly $5,700 in debts owed.

Of federal candidates in North Dakota, Sand’s fundraising figure came second only to Berg, who said he raised about $461,000 toward his Senate bid during those same three months.