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Republican Hopeful Is Exploring Conrad Challenge

A North Dakota Republican told Roll Call that he is exploring the possibility of challenging Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad and has formed a committee to raise money as he eyes the prime 2012 race.

Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk announced the move in an e-mail to supporters late Wednesday night, getting political activity started unusually early for Conrad, who is already running radio ads defending his record.

“Since the November election, many of you have urged me to consider running for the Republican endorsement for the 2012 U.S. Senate race,” Kalk wrote in an e-mail obtained by Roll Call. “This week, we have filed the necessary paperwork to set up the Kalk for Senate Exploratory Committee.”

Kalk told Roll Call that he discussed the race with his wife and daughter over the holidays and began calling his supporters last week. Since the Federal Election Commission requires candidates to file when they have raised $5,000, he needed to establish the committee within days of beginning to make calls, he said.

“The issues will drive our decision,” he said, citing his experience as a military veteran, member of the Public Service Commission and college professor. Though Kalk hasn’t hired any staff, Compliance Consulting in McLean, Va., is helping him with his fundraising reporting.

Kalk said he has not yet talked with anyone from the National Republican Senatorial Committee about his potential bid. A number of other Republicans have also been mentioned as potential Conrad opponents in 2012, including state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Tax Commissioner Cory Fong, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley. As he tries to make a decision about the Senate race, Kalk said he would continue to focus on his current position. He’s not up for re-election to the commission until 2014, and he wrote in the e-mail that his “number one priority” will be that job.

Conrad, chairman of the Budget Committee, is one of the most vulnerable Senators up for re-election, and the NRSC has made it no secret that it thinks it can capture that seat as Republicans try to win control of the Senate. Outside groups are also running ads in North Dakota.

Though Democrats have long dominated politics in the state, Republicans took control of the other two offices in the Congressional delegation in 2010, and they also control the governorship and both chambers of the state Legislature. Roll Call Politics rates this race Leans Democratic.

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