N.D. GOP chairman pushing Hoeven to take on Dorgan

The chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party is vowing to let Gov. John Hoeven (R) know just how much his constituents want him in the Senate.

But although GOP chairman Gary Emineth will have an uphill climb to convince Hoeven, serving his third term, to take on Sen. Byron Dorgan (D), who will seek his fourth term next year, the governor has made comments lately indicating he has not completely slammed the door on challenging the Democrat.

Asked by The Associated Press whether he would enter the race, Hoeven said he concurred with Emineth's hope of recruiting candidates by September.

"I don't have any specific timeline, but that's probably a reasonable range," he said last week.

"Gov. Hoeven is seriously considering making a run for the U.S. Senate," Emineth told The Hill on Wednesday. "The governor has done an incredibly great job for North Dakota, and when you see the contrast of what's happening in North Dakota and what's happening in Washington, specifically our delegation in Washington, it's a huge contrast."

Both Hoeven and Dorgan are widely respected by their constituents. Hoeven won a third term with 74 percent of the vote in 2008, and Dorgan reached 68 percent in 2004.

Hoeven has been a recruiting target before. In 2005, White House political adviser Karl Rove went so far as to travel to North Dakota to urge the governor to run against Sen. Kent Conrad (D), though Hoeven ultimately declined.

This time, Washington strategists are realistic about their prospects of persuading Hoeven to run against Dorgan. A Research 2000 poll taking in early February for the liberal DailyKos website showed Dorgan leading a hypothetical matchup by a 57 percent to 35 percent margin.

And Hoeven's spokesman, Don Canton, refused to confirm or deny that the governor is even thinking about a race. "We're not going to speculate on it. It's very premature. He doesn't want to talk about it at this point," Canton told The Hill Thursday.

But that hasn't tamped down Emineth's enthusiasm.

"I'm going to facilitate the message of the grassroots so [Hoeven] hears the message from across the state," Emineth said. "Once he sees the support across the state, my belief is there's a very high probability that he'll get in the race. We're going to do everything to lay the groundwork. The party is going to be ready."

Emineth said Wednesday the state remains heavily Republican; all of North Dakota's statewide elected officials are Republican, and the party has big majorities in the state legislature. But the state's entire congressional delegation, including Rep. Earl Pomeroy, are Democrats.

"I'm not sure we've put strong candidates forth even in terms of the congressional candidate" against Pomeroy, Emineth said. "We have a great history of Republican policies in North Dakota leadership. You start to see people really make the connection."

And, says Emineth, Hoeven has more to contribute.

"He takes his responsibilities governing the state very seriously, but you know the governor is a young man, and it would be a shame for him to give up politics in his 50s," Emineth said. "He could be a senator for 20 years."

National Democrats point out that Dorgan is unlikely to face a serious challenge from anyone other than Hoeven.

"Sen. Dorgan is a powerful member of the Senate who delivers results for North Dakota everyday — from energy to job creation to agriculture," said Eric Schultz, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "By announcing a bid for Senate, we’d learn instantly that Gov. Hoeven is more concerned about his personal ambition than the state’s well-being."

Republicans fired back, saying despite Dorgan's tenure, recent votes on economic stimulus measures and the natural rightward tilt of the state could give him heartburn.

"The problem facing Byron Dorgan next year is that over the 30 years he’s spent in Washington he’s gone from prairie populist to consummate D.C. insider, with an increasingly left-wing voting record that’s out of touch with a state that went strong for John McCain last year," said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh. "We expect his most recent votes for massive Washington spending and record deficits will lead to a handful of potential candidates taking a close look at this race as the cycle moves forward."

A Dorgan spokesman had no immediate comment on Hoeven's potential candidacy.