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ND Democrats set their fall legislative ticket

Former President Bill Clinton greets a crowd in

Former President Bill Clinton greets a crowd in Grand Forks, N.D., on March 17, 2012. Photo Credit: AP

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Former President Bill Clinton provided a raucous send-off for North Dakota Democrats' statewide ticket Saturday, saying Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp, House hopeful Pam Gulleson and prospective governor Ryan Taylor will forswear partisan fighting and "just go to work."

"We cannot afford to have another election where people are just mad and calling names and lashing out," Clinton said during the closing day of the Democrats' state convention in Grand Forks.

"When you get really mad, you don't think very well," Clinton said as delegates cheered. "This needs to be a thinking election."

Convention delegates unanimously endorsed Heitkamp, a former North Dakota attorney general and tax commissioner, and Gulleson, a former assistant Democratic leader in the state House, for their ticket's top two spots on Saturday.

Delegates also supported Max Laird's bid for state superintendent of public instruction, Brad Crabtree's candidacy for the state Public Service Commission, Scot Kelsh's campaign for state auditor and Taylor's choice of Ellen Chaffee as his running mate for lieutenant governor.

Clinton's speech sounded similar themes as those by Heitkamp and Gulleson — they would avoid what they described as Congress' obsession with partisan bickering.

"The decisions that are being made in Washington today will determine our future for generations to come, yet again and again we watch as gridlock, ego and mean-spirited partisanship get in the way," Gulleson said. "That is not me, and that is not the North Dakota way."

Heitkamp said she would push for a balanced budget and emphasize energy, agriculture and "North Dakota innovation."

"We cannot continue to borrow more than 40 cents of every dollar we spend," Heitkamp said. "We can't make the investments we need in education, infrastructure and innovation unless we get our fiscal house in order."

On Friday, Democrats endorsed Taylor's campaign for governor and candidates for two other jobs — Ross Mushik for state treasurer and Tom Potter for insurance commissioner. All nine offices on the Democratic convention agenda had just one candidate.

Convention endorsements give a favored candidate a guaranteed spot on the June 12 primary ballot and party support for a campaign, including access to lists of previous Democratic campaign donors. Endorsements do not insulate a candidate from a primary challenge, but they are rare.

North Dakota Republicans are holding their convention in Bismarck in two weeks, and they have multiple candidates for five races. GOP House candidate Kevin Cramer has already declared he will run in the primary whether or not he gets the party endorsement.

The Grand Forks convention featured a reunion of the Democratic "Team North Dakota," a nickname given to Conrad, former Sen. Byron Dorgan and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy. It had a valedictory speech by Wayne Sanstead, the state superintendent of public instruction, who is retiring after 28 years in the job.

Dorgan declined to seek re-election in 2010, while Pomeroy was defeated that same year. Conrad is leaving the Senate this year.

Delegates watched a video tribute to Conrad, in which President Barack Obama praised Conrad as a "voice of reason and restraint" in the Senate, and listened to a full-throated Conrad defense of the Obama administration's economic record.

Dorgan gave a nominating speech for Gulleson, who worked as the senator's North Dakota state director.

"She can ride a horse. She can shoot a 12-gauge. She can grease a combine. She can brand a steer," Dorgan said. "She is comfortable sitting in the pew on Sunday ... and then at a Senate desk, in a Senate office, running that office on a Monday morning, and she makes it all look really, really easy."

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