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Published June 09, 2010, 08:02 AM

Berg wins ND GOP primary for Pomeroy House seat

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Republican state Rep. Rick Berg won North Dakota's only contested statewide primary Tuesday and the chance to face a Democrat seeking his 10th term in the U.S. House.

By: DALE WETZEL, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Republican state Rep. Rick Berg won North Dakota's only contested statewide primary Tuesday and the chance to face a Democrat seeking his 10th term in the U.S. House.

Berg defeated oilfield consultant J.D. Donaghe for the GOP nomination. He will face incumbent Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy in the November general election. Pomeroy had no challenger in the Democratic primary.

With 93 percent of precincts reporting unofficial results late Tuesday, Berg had 89 percent of the vote to Donaghe's 11 percent. Voter turnout appeared to be less than 20 percent.

"Obviously, it's a real boost to the campaign," Berg said of the results. "It doesn't change what we're doing, but I think people recognize that I'm 100 percent committed to this. I'm going to work hard."

Berg served three terms as majority leader during his 26 years in the North Dakota House. Both he and Donaghe, a political novice, had said they expected Berg to win.

"We never thought we could win it, obviously — the first time out against a very strong, endorsed candidate," Donaghe said, referring to delegates' support for Berg at the North Dakota Republican convention in March. Donaghe also sought the endorsement but finished a distant third.

An oilfield consultant based in Kenmare, Donaghe, 48, said he wanted to help Berg with energy issues in the fall.

"Running in the primary has been a matter of principle for me," he said. "Everyone deserves the chance to vote to nominate who they want to run in the fall, rather than be dictated to by either party."

Pomeroy, 59, could be vulnerable come November as Republicans lambast his support for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, saying Pomeroy ignored widespread opposition to the initiative. Pomeroy, who recently was given the chairmanship of a House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, was unopposed in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

He issued a statement late Tuesday, saying North Dakotans will compare his efforts to promote energy development and protect Social Security and Medicare "with Rick Berg's 26 years in the state Legislature protecting corporate interests."

Berg, 50, had not planned to run for re-election to the Legislature, where his current term ends in December. The Fargo commercial property developer said his U.S. House bid was motivated by alarm about Congress' handling of health care, energy, spending and the national debt.

"It's kind of like the first phase of a legislative session," Berg said of the primary campaign. "It's important to have a good showing, and yet the real work is going to come from June 9 through Nov. 2."

Steve Goetz, a retired 62-year-old Bismarck resident, said he voted for Berg but did not feel very strongly about the House race.

"It's not so much that I like (Berg), it's that I don't like the other choices," Goetz said. "I don't know that I am totally infatuated with him."

North Dakota voters may only participate in one party's primary. For example, voters may not cast a ballot for a Republican in a Senate race and a Democrat in a House race.

Several voters said they had voted for Berg because he shared the GOP ballot with Gov. John Hoeven, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Melody Karlberg, 46, said she voted for Berg but was not familiar with either Republican House candidate.

"I don't know a whole lot about either one of them," the Bismarck office manager said.

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