UPDATED: The evolution of 2012 congressional prospects

FARGO – The 2012 U.S. Senate race in North Dakota is underway, but the possibilities are wide and various for how the campaign landscape might change before the party nominating conventions next spring.

Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk‘s announcement in the race begins the first of what is expected to be at least several potential candidacies from the GOP.

After encouragement from state Republicans – including a formal letter of support from dozens of statewide officials and legislators – Rep. Rick Berg said this week he’s “seriously considering” a run at the Senate.

Berg said Wednesday he has no timeline of when he might decide on the race, adding that he’s focused on his role as the state’s lone congressman.

Meanwhile, several other Republicans are weighing a bid to challenge Kalk for the party nomination – including state Sen. Tony Grindberg of Fargo and state Rep. Kim Koppelman of West Fargo.

Similarly, state Sen. Tim Flakoll of Fargo said he’s still considering it, but he said if Berg sought the Senate, he wouldn’t challenge him.

In that case, Flakoll said he might consider running for the House seat.

State House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo said he’d consider the House race only if Berg ran for the Senate.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem – seen by many Republicans as a potentially strong candidate in a federal race – firmly said Thursday he wasn’t interested in congressional office.

“Not every one who has a political office strives for a higher one,” Stenehjem joked, adding: “I’m fine in the office I’m in.”

Stenehjem affirmed his desire to see Berg run for the U.S. Senate and said even if the House race opened up to Republican hopefuls, he wouldn’t jump in.

“If they told me I could have (the seat), I still wouldn’t take it,” Stenehjem said. “I go to Washington a lot and I’m never as happy as when I leave.”

Tax Commissioner Cory Fong seems more likely to consider a congressional bid – but he said Thursday it all depends on what Berg decides. Like Stenehjem, Fong also signed on to the letter urging a Berg Senate bid.

“I would have to weigh the options. If he does choose to run, I’m very interested to explore the idea of the House,” Fong said. “For my future, and what I decide to do and how I fit into this mix, it really is on hold until Rick decides what he’s going to do.”

Among Democrats, several possibilities have been named, but no obvious candidate has come forward yet for either federal race.

State Sen. Mac Schneider of Grand Forks said Wednesday he intends to seek re-election to his legislative seat.

Meanwhile, his cousin USDA Rural Development State Director Jasper Schneider said he hasn’t made any decision yet, but “I recognize that things change quickly in politics.”

“I will have those conversations with my supporters and family in the coming months,” Jasper Schneider said.

Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor of Towner seemed to rule out Thursday any prospect that he would enter the 2012 federal races.

“It’s a long time to 2012,” Taylor said. “I think there’ll be several strong Dem-NPL contenders in the federal races, and I won’t tip their hand until they announce, but they’ll be exciting candidates and elections. At this time, my family and I don’t see a run for a federal office that would potentially take us to D.C.”

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R), Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley (R) and former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp have been offered as possibilities, as well. However, these three especially – like Stenehjem – seem far more likely to vie for the governorship than any federal office.

Originally posted 11:45 p.m. April 27.
Updated 11:30 a.m. April 28.