In send-off, Conrad predicts Democratic victory in 2012, reflects on quarter-century Senate career

Kent Conrad

GRAND FORKS – In his final address to the Democratic-NPL Party before his retirement later this year, Sen. Kent Conrad reflected on his decades of service and predicted a comeback for North Dakota Democrats this fall.

Conrad exuded his optimism for a party victory, when he spoke late this morning before a crowd of nearly 1,000 delegates at the state party convention at the Alerus Center.

The 2010 election saw two of the state’s three congressional seats turned over to Republican winners, but Conrad said House candidate Pam Gulleson and Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp are the party’s best chances to reclaim representation in the state’s delegation.

Conrad’s optimism for 2012 extended to the presidential race, as well, where he said Americans won’t vote to return to the failed policies of the Bush Administration.

Conrad defended incumbent President Obama, describing how Obama inherited the “dangerous” economic decisions of Bush and took the necessary strides – such as the controversial economic stimulus – to right the course.

“Republicans led us to the brink of a depression,” Conrad said, adding of the party’s 2012 platform: “They seem to have learned absolutely nothing from their mistakes.”

Prior to Conrad’s speech, delegates viewed a 25-minute video tribute that offered a biographical look at Conrad’s upbringing, his start in politics and his lengthy career in public office.

Before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, Conrad served as North Dakota tax commissioner. Since then, Conrad has become well-known for his expertise on fiscal policy, and particularly his work on the national budget.

During the video tribute, Conrad’s colleagues in the U.S. Senate spoke their praises of him, including two former senators who have since ascended to higher office: Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Obama called Conrad “the pre-eminent expert on budget matters here in Washington.”

“He’s the voice of reason and restraint,” Obama said.

New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg described Conrad as having “common sense, forthrightness and integrity.”

“He’s very forthright about the problems this country faces,” Gregg said. “Especially on fiscal policy, his voice is critical to making sure that there’s an honest discussion that doesn’t try to hide the facts and doesn’t try to gloss over the problem.”

Biden said Conrad earned the rare respect of his Senate colleagues because he’s “mastered the topic” of economic policy and budget matters.

“There are very few men and women who earn the respect of their colleagues to the point where, when they speak on a specific issue, they listen,” Biden said. “Pal, that’s you. You’re one of the few people I’ve worked with in all my years in the Senate that have reached and maintained that status.”

Conrad’s former colleagues in the state’s infamous “Team North Dakota” – former Sen. Byron Dorgan and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy – also shared memories of their decades of friendship and policy work with Conrad.

Dorgan and Pomeroy, who both live and work in Washington now, returned home to attend this weekend’s Democratic convention. Both men said they’re proud to honor their lifelong friend and celebrate his career.