BISMARCK (AP) - Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp on Monday questioned Rep. Rick Berg's ability to fulfill a promise to help break Washington gridlock, noting he failed to get Republican leaders to hold a pre-election vote on farm legislation crucial to North Dakota.
In a debate recorded Monday for later broadcast on Prairie Public's North Dakota television and radio network, Heitkamp criticized what she said was Berg's ineffectiveness in advocating for a new five-year farm bill.
"When we talk about gridlock, the gridlock we got was within the Republican Party," Heitkamp said. "You cannot look at any kind of activity that you had on the farm bill and claim any amount of success, or any amount of legitimate effort."
Berg is trying to move to the Senate after serving one term as North Dakota's lone U.S. House member. He described Heitkamp's criticism as "simply not accurate" and said he has pushed repeatedly for a pre-election vote, including supporting a "discharge petition" that would compel a floor vote on the legislation.
House Republican leaders have promised to have a vote on the farm bill by year's end, Berg added. He said his own rural roots - Berg grew up in Hettinger, a small southwestern North Dakota community - made the issue personal for him.
"I am doing everything I can, and I will continue to do what I can, to get this farm bill passed, because it is important to North Dakota," he said.
The farm bill includes money for a host of agricultural programs ranging from crop insurance to soil conservation, but the largest chunk of money, roughly 80 percent, is for food stamps.
The legislation has stalled in the House largely because Republican leaders don't want a noisy fight between Democrats, who oppose cuts to food stamps, and Republicans, who want bigger cuts than have been proposed, this close to the election. The previous farm bill expired last month.
North Dakota's economy relies heavily on crop production, and many in the state's agriculture community say the lapse between farm bills has made it more difficult for farmers to plan for the future.
Berg, 53, was an executive in a Fargo property development company and a North Dakota state legislator before he ran for the House in 2010. At the time, he campaigned against what he said was a broken political system in Washington and portrayed himself as someone who could improve things, but he hasn't, said Heitkamp, 56, an attorney and former North Dakota tax commissioner and attorney general.
The two candidates are waging the most expensive Senate campaign in state history. On Monday, Berg reported raising $5.6 million for his Senate bid, while Heitkamp has raised $3.7 million.
The previous record for spending in a North Dakota Senate race was set in 2006, when incumbent Democrat Kent Conrad, who is leaving office this year, spent just over $4 million on his re-election. His Republican foe, Dwight Grotberg, spent $187,000.