BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's hard-fought U.S. Senate race between Republican Rep. Rick Berg and Heidi Heitkamp was too close to call early Tuesday, preventing Republicans from declaring a sweep in all four of the state's top races.
Republican Kevin Cramer defeated Democrat Pam Gulleson to replace Berg in the U.S. House, where Berg has served for just one term. Berg and Cramer both tried to turn the races into referendums on Democratic President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which has been unpopular in North Dakota. But Heitkamp resisted, emphasizing her political independence and criticizing President Barack Obama on the energy issues important to an oil-rich state.
Heitkamp's strategy struck home with many voters, including Wendi Brandner, 42, who is studying at Bismarck State College to become a science teacher.
"It seems as though she has the people's welfare in mind with every decision she makes. It's not necessarily so much about voting with the party, it's more about voting with somebody you know you can trust to do what they say they're going to do," Brandner said.
Brandner, who grew up on a farm near New Rockford in northeastern North Dakota, also said she supported Heitkamp because "she's a woman, and she kind of grew up in the same manner as I grew up."
Heitkamp, a former North Dakota attorney general and tax commissioner, is a product of rural southeastern North Dakota.
Cramer, 51, a North Dakota public service commissioner from Bismarck, campaigned on his opposition to the new federal health care law. He advocates replacing it with provisions that he says will give consumers more control over their health care.
Gulleson, 54, of Rutland, endorsed some changes in the federal health care law but said she wouldn't repeal it.
The candidates also sparred over wind power subsidies, farm legislation and campaign donations. Cramer advocated eliminating a federal tax subsidy for the wind industry to help reduce federal budget deficits and debt. It is a sensitive topic in North Dakota, where the industry has blossomed in recent years.