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Plains: Democrat Takes Close N.D. Senate Race

Former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) pulled off a major upset, narrowly defeating Republican Rep. Rick Berg in the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad. North Dakota is one of the most solidly Republican states — President Barack Obama won only 39 percent of the vote there — and Heitkamp beat Berg by a razor-thin margin — 3,000 votes, just 1 point.

Berg conceded Wednesday afternoon, bringing a swift and unexpected end to the last undecided Senate race. The partisan breakdown of the Senate has not been finalized this soon after an election in recent memory.

Otherwise, Tuesday brought few surprises in the 24 Congressional elections across the deep red Plains states.

Republican Kevin Cramer captured Berg’s vacated at-large House seat in North Dakota, and Republican incumbents won re-election in South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, as well as the region’s tightest contest: the Member-vs.-Member race for Iowa’s 3rd district. There, Republican Rep. Tom Latham, a close friend of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), defeated eight-term Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Leonard Boswell with
52 percent of the vote.

Democrats celebrated an expected win over Missouri Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin, though few would have predicted the 16-point margin Sen. Claire McCaskill held with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Going into the contest, Akin’s reputation as a reliable social conservative served him well in the red state, but his campaign suffered irreparable damage when he told a local TV host that the “legitimate rape” of a woman rarely leads to pregnancy. Akin did not manage to break 40 percent.

Social conservatives did retain one of their biggest champions when tea party favorite Rep. Steve King handily defeated Christie Vilsack, the wife of Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, 53 percent to 45 percent in Iowa’s 4th district. Democratic Reps. Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack won re-election in Iowa’s other two districts. Braley won his fourth term, fending off Republican Ben Lange for the second consecutive election.

As expected, Republican incumbents won all four House seats in Kansas, including Rep. Kevin Yoder, who in 2010 captured a formerly Democratic seat. The freshman made headlines this summer for skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee during an official trip to Israel last year, but he faced no Democratic challenger this cycle.

The balance of power in Missouri remained stable, as incumbent candidates for federal and state offices easily prevailed, including Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who won re-election to a second term. Democrats still hold just two of the state’s eight Congressional seats.

Republican Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer brought the GOP its lone Senate pickup, defeating onetime Senator, presidential candidate and Vietnam War veteran Bob Kerrey in the race to replace retiring two-term Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson. The victory will position Fischer, who won by more than 16 points, as one of the few conservative female voices in the Republican caucus. Nebraska’s three House Republican incumbents will return to Washington.

In South Dakota, Republican Rep. Kristi Noem, who rode the tea party wave to Congress in 2010, easily won re-election. Neither of the state’s Senators were up for re-election.

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