ND GOP Gov. Hoeven begins run for US Senate

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven has begun his U.S. Senate run with an appeal for lower taxes, less debt and federal tax incentives to encourage job growth and energy production.

In a speech prepared for delivery Monday night at a meeting of Bismarck Republicans, Hoeven declared he will seek the Republican endorsement to run for a seat now held by Democrat Byron Dorgan, who is not running for his fourth term. Recent polls showed Hoeven leading Dorgan in a hypothetical U.S. Senate race.

The governor’s speech also was critical of a federal health care overhaul proposal. He said the plan would saddle state governments with billions of dollars in extra costs.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven has decided to run for the U.S. Senate, a Republican official with knowledge of Hoeven’s plans told The Associated Press on Monday.

Hoeven, 52, will seek the Republican endorsement to run for a seat now held by Democrat Byron Dorgan, who is not seeking his fourth term. Recent polls showed Hoeven leading Dorgan in a hypothetical U.S. Senate race.

The Republican official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the GOP governor’s plans. Hoeven is scheduled to speak Monday night to a meeting of Bismarck Republicans.

The governor’s spokesman, Don Canton, declined comment.

Hoeven is considered a moderate Republican and has pushed issues in the North Dakota Legislature that have been supported by Democrats, including expansion of a health-insurance program for poor children and higher salaries for public school teachers. He is in his third term, which he won in 2008 with 74 percent of the vote, and is the nation’s longest-serving governor.

Dorgan announced last week that he decided against running for a fourth term because he wanted to teach, write books and pursue other opportunities, not because he was ducking a possible Hoeven challenge.

His decision means Democrats will have to defend open Senate seats in at least four states in what could be a challenging election year. They now hold an effective 60-40 majority in the Senate — enough to break Republican filibusters — if they and the chamber’s two independents, who align themselves with Democrats, stick together.

North Dakota Republicans say President Barack Obama’s health care initiative and support for energy regulation have made things difficult for the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation — Dorgan, Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomeroy.

The state’s Democratic Party chairman, Mark Schneider, said Monday that if Hoeven were to win the U.S. Senate election, that would leave the state with “a freshman senator in the minority party.”

“We’re not surprised by the timing, considering that Hoeven has always changed his mind to best fit the political climate,” Schneider said. “He did start out as a Democrat, after all.”

In a February 1996 letter to newspapers, Hoeven declared he was a Democrat, praised Dorgan and his North Dakota Senate colleague, Kent Conrad, and spoke disparagingly of efforts by “overly partisan members of the Republican Party to cast me as one of their own.”

“I have always been moderate in my political views, but now that I am considering elective office, I realize I must join a political party and stick to it,” Hoeven said then.

At the time Hoeven wrote the letter, Democrats were attempting to recruit him as their candidate to run against then-GOP Gov. Ed Schafer. Hoeven eventually declined the race and became active in Republican politics.

Hoeven won his first race for public office when he defeated Democratic Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp for the governorship in 2000. He had been president of the Bank of North Dakota, the nation’s only state-owned bank, for the previous seven years.

Until Monday, the Republican Senate race had one declared candidate, Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect and political newcomer.

No Democrat has formally declared a Senate candidacy, although former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp; her brother, former state Sen. Joel Heitkamp; and Kristin Hedger, who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2006, are among those considering the race.

North Dakota Republicans will endorse their preferred candidate for governor at the state party’s convention in Grand Forks March 19-21. They are holding a series of district political meetings across North Dakota this month and next to elect delegates to the convention.

The Republican endorsement would mean Hoeven would be guaranteed a spot on the state’s June primary ballot. Any candidate could file petitions to run in the primary, although primary challenges in both the North Dakota Democratic and Republican parties are rare.

Should Hoeven be elected to the Senate, his lieutenant governor, Republican Jack Dalrymple, would finish Hoeven’s four-year term. Dalrymple would be in charge of picking his own successor as lieutenant governor.