Pomeroy Embraces Veteran Status, Not Party

Republicans Say Democrat's Support for Party Agenda Will Be Hurdle Too High to Clear on Election Day

Posted September 3, 2010 at 6:15pm

FARGO, N.D. — Most political handicappers believe veteran Rep. Earl Pomeroy is more likely to lose than win re-election in November, but you wouldn’t know it by a recent appearance he made during a RedHawks baseball game.

Sitting behind home plate, the North Dakota Democrat easily chatted with baseball fans. A few people even approached to encourage the nine-term Congressman to keep up the good work or to thank him for his votes on contentious issues such as health care.

But Pomeroy wasn’t there just as a baseball fan. During the seventh-inning stretch, he took center stage at the sold-out stadium, enthusiastically leading the crowd in a somewhat off-key rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Pomeroy is counting on campaign stops like that to help him fend off Republican challenger Rick Berg in November.

The baseball game was just one of several appearances, including giving a speech at an event for area Democrats and reiterating his support for soldiers at a veterans motorcycle charity race, that Pomeroy made over the late-August weekend. The events serve as examples of Pomeroy’s determination to crisscross the state to promote his experience, name recognition and tenacity defending North Dakota independent of the Democratic Party on the campaign trail.

Pomeroy knows getting re-elected isn’t going to be easy. He is facing an anti-incumbent and anti-Democratic groundswell in a Republican-leaning state with a credible GOP challenger for the first time in several election cycles. So far, at least four Rasmussen Reports polls, including one in late June, have shown Berg narrowly ahead of Pomeroy, and many political prognosticators view the Congressman as the underdog.

“I’m very, very motivated for this race,” Pomeroy told a group of more than 30 local Democratic supporters at the corn feed in his hometown of Valley City. “This is the beginning of what’s going to be a very competitive race.”

Pomeroy pointed to his record working for North Dakota as a reason for voters to come out to the polls in November, adding that his opponent is taking credit for the good fortune North Dakota has had in recent months rather than any legislative victories he had in the state Legislature.

“I believe my record will serve me well,” he said.

Pomeroy reiterated his determination to secure re-election in an interview at Babb’s Coffee House in downtown Fargo.

“I’ve been in tough cycles my entire career,” Pomeroy said, discounting the national political handicappers.

‘We’re Both Incumbents’

Pomeroy has held the House seat since 1992 and won in 2008 with 62 percent of the vote. One Democratic strategy, in a year of political “outsider” upsets, is to paint Berg as a career politician in an effort to diffuse that line of attack against Pomeroy.

“There are two records at issue — we’re both incumbents,” Pomeroy said.

Berg, who works at a real estate firm, served in the state Legislature for 26 years, including stints as Majority Leader and Speaker, before leaving public office in 2008.

He decided to re-enter the political arena after being outraged during the health care debate. His wife is a physician who practices family medicine.

“People feel America is off track,” Berg said in an interview at his Fargo campaign headquarters. “Deficits, bailouts, health care. It is not the way we do things in North Dakota. In North Dakota we’ve got 4 percent unemployment, we’ve got a balanced budget, we’ve got incomes rising and job growth.”

He added, “Our country can be just as strong as North Dakota with the right common-sense policy.”

Berg is hitting the campaign trail to bring that message to North Dakotans. Last week, he kicked off an 18-city, nine-day “North Dakota Way” tour in his hometown of Hettinger, focusing on economic policy and the deficit.

In addition to getting his own message out, Berg is also expecting the top of the ticket to help draw Republican voters to the polls. Popular GOP Gov. John Hoeven is running to replace retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D), and Democrats are not contesting the race.

National Republican Party figures have also come out in support of Berg. He has attracted campaign visits from House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), Sen. John Thune (S.D.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, among others.

Pomeroy is spending time trying to remind constituents how instrumental he can be on tax issues, specifically on energy policy. A senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, Pomeroy has been a strong advocate for renewing the ethanol tax incentives that expire at the end of the year.

No Hard Times Here

While much of the country is struggling economically, North Dakota is in the midst of an economic surge. Pomeroy supporters are hoping that the in-state economic boom, thanks largely to its stable of agriculture jobs and oil prospects in the western part of the state, will help his re-election bid.

Pomeroy is also stressing his independence from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). He opposed the cap-and-trade bill in the House and in an interview called Pelosi’s decision to bring the bill up as her “single biggest mistake” as Speaker.

Still, some of his supporters say they are concerned about his prospects.

“If this area doesn’t break for him, who will?” asked Valley City resident and Democratic state lawmaker Ralph Metcalf.

Still, Metcalf, who attended the recent corn feed event, acknowledged that the race is “going to be one of those tough ones.”

Phillip Mueller, also a Valley City resident and Democratic state lawmaker, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about Pomeroy’s chances despite the controversial vote he took supporting health care reform.

“I don’t think that there’s any question health care had its negative impact,” Mueller said.

But Pomeroy isn’t just counting on his record, which includes other recent controversial votes in addition to health care, such as his support of the financial and auto bailouts and the massive financial services overhaul.

He has stockpiled an impressive campaign war chest that he and Democratic strategists believe could help him survive in a sour, anti-incumbent climate. He had raised $2.2 million as of the end of June and had $1.7 million in cash on hand.

Berg, who is in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program, also has put up strong fundraising numbers. He had raised $1 million as of June 30 and had $752,000 in reserve.

North Dakota is a relatively cheap state as far as TV markets, and both candidates are already on the air and are expected to stay up through Election Day.

Pomeroy has taken a decidedly negative tact in his first ads. So far, he has put out two ads criticizing Berg’s long tenure in state politics and calling him out for “ducking debates.”

The NRCC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have both reserved time to advertise in the state.

Pomeroy and Berg have not agreed on a date for a media-sponsored debate, and Pomeroy has been publicly hammering Berg on the delay.

Berg said the delay in debates is based on a campaign schedule that has already been set and an earlier statement by Pomeroy that he did not want to start the debates until after Labor Day.

“I’m open to debate him,” Berg said. “People want America back on track. They don’t want an expansion of government.”