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North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven waves to a crowded room with his wife, Mikey, at his side before making the announcement that he is running for the U.S. Senate during a Republican gathering Monday nigh in Bismarck. (Dave Wallis/The Forum)

North Dakota Gov. Hoeven declares U.S. Senate candidacy

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BISMARCK - After serving as North Dakota governor since 2000, John Hoeven said Monday night he believes he's the right candidate to bring "common-sense" policy back to Washington.

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Hoeven announced his bid for the U.S. Senate before a crowd of 200 Republican supporters in the state capital at the first district conventions of the 2010 election season.

"We have been working to build our future together in North Dakota," Hoeven said. "Tonight, we are reaching out again, and asking you to work with us to build our future together - not just in North Dakota, but in America."

Cheers of "Bring on John!" and "Hoeven, Hoeven!" resounded throughout the room at the Doublewood Inn here during the 15 minutes before Hoeven took to the stage.

"It's time for fresh leadership," said state Tax Commissioner Cory Fong, who introduced the governor. "We deserve and we want the kind of progress and advancement and reform at the federal level that we've experienced right here in North Dakota during the last nine years under Governor Hoeven's leadership."

Hoeven, who's considered the Republican favorite, emphasized his background and experience in serving North Dakota and said Monday he wants to bring "common sense" policy back to Washington.

"That's why we're here tonight: to get America working again," Hoeven said. "At this hour in our nation's history, we heed a plan that will create good jobs and restore a common-sense approach to government and the economy.

"That means reducing the tax burden. That means lowering energy costs. That means encouraging entrepreneurial investment, deploying new technologies and establishing a strong financial position for the country, so that we don't burden future generations with unsustainable debt."

Hoeven's announcement comes less than a week after Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan shocked voters and his party with the news he would not seek re-election in November.

Political observers had been speculating for months that Hoeven would seek election to the Senate seat this year. Prior to Dorgan's decision, polls showed Hoeven leading Dorgan in the potential match-up by a wide margin.

But Dorgan shut down speculation last week that his decision had anything to do with a potentially heated race against Hoeven. Dorgan said he wanted to pursue other interests outside public office.

After months of consideration, Hoeven said Monday he had made his official decision to run for the Senate shortly after the New Year, adding that Dorgan's announcement only "accelerated our timeline on getting out and announcing."

While Hoeven's campaign gears up in the weeks ahead, he vowed it wouldn't affect his work as governor.

"First, it's about the duties as governor, but we will still get out and have the kind of campaign that's positive, that gets our message out in front of the people and talks about the positive difference we believe we can make for the people of North Dakota and the country," Hoeven said after his speech.

Hoeven's opposition in the Senate race is unknown because no Democrat has announced a bid in the wake of Dorgan's retirement.

But former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp said last week she is considering a bid for the Democrats' nomination. Heitkamp lost to Hoeven, when he first ran for governor in 2000.

Democrats were quick to criticize Hoeven.

Democratic-NPL Chairman Mark Schneider said in a statement that Hoeven must answer questions about where he stands on problems facing the nation and how "leaving his job in Bismarck to go to Washington will solve them."

"Less than two years ago, the governor asked the people of North Dakota to elect him as governor, and now he wants to move on," Schneider said. "If Hoeven won, the state would be faced with the prospect of a freshman Senator in the minority party and a new governor.

"We're not surprised by the timing, considering that Hoeven always changes his mind to best fit the political climate. He did start out as a Democrat, after all," Schneider said.

Hoeven has served as North Dakota's governor since 2000. He was re-elected in 2004 and again in 2008, making him the first governor in the state's history to be elected to a third four-year term. He is also the longest-serving seated governor in the country.

Republican supporters in the crowd Monday night voiced enthusiasm and excitement for Hoeven's official announcement, although many said they expected it for a long time.

"I just had the sense that this was the time for a person of his background and experience to jump into this race," said former U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, who stood on the stage as Hoeven spoke to the crowd. "I couldn't be more pleased."

During Hoeven's 10-minute speech announcing his candidacy for North Dakota's open Senate seat, his supporters declared their support with deafening cheers and booming chants of Hoeven's name.

"It couldn't be any more exciting," said Jim Poolman, a former North Dakota insurance commissioner and legislator. "John Hoeven resonates with the average North Dakotan, on all sides."

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