FARGO – Republicans are itching to win back a majority in the U.S. Senate in November, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell believes he has a good chance with North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, calling him “the best recruit we’ve landed so far.”
For years, political analysts have predicted an eventual Hoeven bid for Senate, and in recent months, Republicans have clamored for the official word from the popular North Dakota governor.
It’s clear that prior to last week’s announcement from Hoeven that he would indeed run, there were talks ongoing behind the scenes between Hoeven and national party leaders – as evidenced by McConnell’s pledge Monday that, if elected, Hoeven would receive a coveted Senate committee assignment not granted to a freshman Republican in at least 26 years.
McConnell said Monday he’d been speed-dialing Hoeven for six months encouraging him to run, because he was impressed with Hoeven’s leadership experience in governing North Dakota. The Republican leader also said he’s encouraged by Hoeven’s prospects for victory in the Senate race.
Hoeven acknowledged he’d had discussions with McConnell during the past several months as he considered a run for Senate but said he couldn’t recall when McConnell guaranteed him spots on the pivotal Appropriations Committee and Energy & Natural Resources Committee, as the pair announced Monday.
Conversations also occurred between Hoeven and Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, whom Hoeven previously approached for support in a Senate bid.
Walaker has voiced concern over the future of flood funding in the Red River Valley ever since the announced retirement of incumbent Byron Dorgan, who currently chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that controls funding for flood projects. Walaker said he told Hoeven he had one priority: securing permanent flood protection for the valley.
“I told John, ‘You cannot lose sight of this. There’s a lot of people that want you to run, both on a national and local level. You have to take advantage of that and get some promises,’” Walaker said.
Hoeven, and everyone else, got such a promise Monday with McConnell’s pledge in the event of a Hoeven victory.
Partisan politics aside, Walaker said that promise has put him and many residents more at ease, since Hoeven would sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which controls federal funding.
State Democrats, however, do not agree. In a statement, Dem-NPL Executive Director Joe Aronson criticized McConnell’s anti-progress mentality in the Senate, and party spokeswoman Meredith Pickett said the promised committee assignments won’t help North Dakotans if Hoeven is “just going to be another member of the party of ‘No.’”
Also at Hoeven’s first campaign rally Monday, McConnell criticized the Obama administration for not bringing the change Americans anticipated and he condemned the president and national Democrats for how they’ve handled the controversial issue of health care reform.
“Americans are suffering from a severe case of buyer’s remorse,” McConnell said of Obama. “They got change, all right. But it wasn’t the change they were looking for. And for the right kind of change, send John Hoeven to the United States Senate.”
The energy among Republican supporters at the rally was almost electric, as they cheered, clapped and chanted for Hoeven, who stood with McConnell.
Key state Republicans acknowledged it’s unusual for a candidate to have a visit from a national party leader so early in a campaign.
“I’m not so sure it has been this early in the campaign before,” said former Republican Gov. Ed Schafer. “We’ve certainly had legislative leaders, but it’s probably more along in the process. Again, it’s reflective.”
Schafer continued, “Normally, they come when they know that you have a candidate that’s competitive and could possibly win. Otherwise, they can’t afford the time. But in this case, things are obviously looking really good and so I think it’s another indication that Republicans in Washington are excited to see John Hoeven join their ranks.”
However, despite not facing a Democratic challenger yet, Hoeven reiterated a couple times Monday: “We’re taking nothing for granted.”
For The Forum’s coverage of Monday’s event, pick up today’s edition or visit http://www.inforum.com for the story and supplemental audio interviews.