FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The grueling political showdown between Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Rick Berg in the hotly contested race for U.S. Senate ranked as North Dakota's top news story of 2012, according to a vote by Associated Press newspaper and broadcast members.
The race drew national attention as the GOP and Democratic parties wrestled for control of Congress. Berg had been an early favorite, but Heitkamp's perceived political independence and personal charm helped her eke out the win by a 3,000-vote margin.
North Dakotans, who hadn't seen a tight Senate race in more than a quarter of a century, couldn't escape the race. Residents saw an unprecedented level of political commercials and fielded sometimes unwelcome cellphone campaign calls, giving voters their first real taste of the unrestrained campaigning that has long been common in larger states.
Lloyd Omdahl, a longtime political science professor at the University of North Dakota and a former lieutenant governor, said it was the most significant outcome since Democrat Kent Conrad upset incumbent Mark Andrews in the 1986 Senate race.
"In the context of a very conservative trend in the state, the election of a Democrat under any circumstance was somewhat significant," Omdahl said.
"Politics are personal in North Dakota. You get to know people. Heidi was very likable and personable. Personable is important in North Dakota."
Omdahl said he believed residents were less than impressed with the amount of money spent on the race, but they were more bothered by the "negativism" on both sides and the style of the campaign.
State AP members selected the following stories as the remaining top 10 of the year:
2. Oil Record Set.
North Dakota set an oil-production record for the fifth consecutive year, putting the state on pace to best the previous mark by more than 50 million barrels. The state also passed Alaska to become the second-leading oil-producing state in the nation, trailing only Texas.
3. Fighting Sioux Farewell.
The decades-old debate over whether to keep the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname finally seemed to come to an end as 68 percent of voters in the June primary agreed it was time to drop the nickname deemed "hostile and abusive" by the NCAA. In what appears to be a final nail in the nickname's casket, a group pushing a state constitutional amendment to save it missed a December deadline to resurrect the issue.
4. Reservation Shootings.
In a state with few slayings each year, North Dakota mourned a grandmother and three of her grandchildren, who were shot and killed in the woman's New Town home. Benjamin Shuster, 13, Julia Shuster, 10, and Luke Shuster, 6, were found dead alongside their grandmother, 64-year-old Martha Johnson. A fourth child, a 12-year-old boy, managed to survive by playing dead beneath the body of one of his brothers. The FBI, which is investigating the shootings because they happened on a reservation, has released few details, but law enforcement said that a "person of interest" killed himself later the same day in nearby Parshall.
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