FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Voters enjoying a robust economy fostered by western North Dakota's oil boom showed support Tuesday for the smaller government and tax cuts advocated by Republicans.
Led by Mitt Romney in the presidential race and Gov. Jack Dalrymple, the GOP won three of the top four races on the ballot, and Republican Rep. Rick Berg remained locked in a tight race with Democrat Heidi Heitkamp for the U.S. Senate.
Republican Kevin Cramer was elected to replace Berg in the U.S. House.
Voters said the strong GOP showing was a referendum not only on President Barack Obama, but an endorsement of the GOP's handling of an oil boom that has enabled the state to defy a national economic slump. Even Heitkamp's strong showing in a race with a razor-thin margin was somewhat anti-Obama: She's been harshly critical of the president's energy policy, is pro-oil and supports gun rights.
Nationally, "it is becoming too big government, too socialistic, too high taxes, less and less personal rights, less and less constitution, less and less everything," said Mark Nettum, 70, a retiree from Fargo who voted Republican across the board.
Tom Shockman, a Fargo money manager, voted straight Republican, too. The 50-year-old said he favors smaller government and thinks it has grown too big under Obama.
"That's how the founders built it. They wanted control with the states," Shockman said. "They didn't want a big centralized government, that's where they came from."
North Dakota has risen from the nation's ninth-leading oil producer to No. 2 behind Texas in just six years, with the oil industry adding thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars to the state economy. It's put the state in a unique position, with a projected $1.6 billion in surplus money, while most states are drowning in debt.
The governor's race focused on management of that growth, with Dalrymple maintaining he's done a good job of balancing spending on public works with tax cuts and Democratic challenger Ryan Taylor saying the state could do more to help local governments deal with problems created by oil-related development.
Dalrymple said his victory shows that citizens agree with his plan for improving the state's infrastructure, lowering taxes and maintaining fiscal responsibility.
"There's a whole different set of challenges when your state is doing well," the governor said. "Some of these judgment calls can get even more challenging. But we look forward to it, because so many things are going to become possible."
Other voters decided to buck the Republican tide, as evidenced by Heitkamp's strong showing in the U.S. Senate race.
Carol Preston, 77, a Fargo retiree, said she voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein for president and Heitkamp for Senate because she believes people in the highest income bracket should be paying more taxes. But Preston also voted for Dalrymple.
Willy Marler, 19, of Rogers, said he voted for Romney because he believes he'll do a better job on farm policy, but he also picked Heitkamp over Berg.
"I think she supports North Dakota better. She understands North Dakota and the way we live up here," Marler said. "It's a lot different from New York City or Los Angeles."
North Dakota residents approved four of five ballot measures. They agreed to expand the state's smoking ban to cover bars and other public places, prohibit the state from levying a tax on voting, protect farmers' rights, and require the governor and other elected officials to take an oath of office. Voters rejected a measure expanding the state's animal cruelty law.
More people were expected at the polls this year because the state's population has grown with the oil boom. Residents broke a record for early voting, with nearly 130,000 casting ballots before the polls opened on Election Day, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said. That broke the record set in 2008 by about 10,000 votes.
Still, Jaeger said he expected voter turnout in the state to be similar to what it was in the presidential elections four years ago and eight years ago — about 64 percent or 65 percent of eligible voters.
"Even though our numbers go up, will the (turnout) percentage go up? That remains to be seen," Jaeger said.
Associated Press writers James MacPherson and Blake Nicholson contributed to this report.