BISMARCK - Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is "seriously considering" a run for governor next year, he said Monday after the release of a statewide poll that showed him with the highest favorable response among several potential GOP candidates.
Stenehjem's comments to Forum News Service were the strongest indication so far of his seriousness about the race since Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced last month he will not seek re-election.
"I think it would be fair to say that I am seriously considering it," Stenehjem said.
Preliminary results of the poll show Stenehjem had the highest favorable response among GOP candidates at about 57 percent, followed by Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley at nearly 36 percent. The phone survey of 500 people who voted in the last election was conducted Friday through Sunday by West Fargo-based Telos Associates, CEO Jason Matthews said.
Stenehjem said he hadn't seen the poll but heard about it and was encouraged by the results, as well as the support "from hundreds of people urging me to consider running."
"In light of that, I think it's really not unreasonable to seriously consider a run, and so I am. But it's too early to make a formal declaration," he said. "People rightly think that campaigns are too long."
His wife, Beth, "is on board, which is important," he said, calling it "a life-changing decision."
"It really is a balance," he said. "I don't want to put it off too long. But on the other hand, once you make a declaration, everything you do is looked at through the eye of a campaign."
Stenehjem served as a state lawmaker for 24 years before being elected attorney general in 2000 with 56 percent of the vote. He has received at least 68 percent of the vote in his four election wins since then.
Wrigley said Monday that he had nothing to add to his previous statement that he's considering a gubernatorial run. The former U.S. attorney for North Dakota admitted earlier this month to having an extramarital affair, though he hasn't disclosed when it happened. He said the governor's race is a personal decision he will make with his wife.
"Our family comes first, and we are keeping that squarely in mind, but of course it's the season in North Dakota and people are generously offering their advice," he said.
Fargo entrepreneur Doug Burgum, who received a 23 percent favorable response in the Telos Associates poll, is mulling a run, as are state Treasurer Kelly Schmidt and state Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton, whose names weren't included in the poll. Campbell said last week he was forming an exploratory committee, and Burgum has said he wouldn't rule out a campaign as an independent.
Matthews said Telos Associates initiated the poll on its own. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Full results will be released to statewide media later this week, he said.
U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., put an end to months of speculation when she announced Sept. 9 that she will not run for governor. No other Democrats have declared.