Monday's New York Times front page featured Jonathan Weisman's hopeful Democratic-centered coverage of a surprisingly tight race: "'North Dakota Nice' Plays Well in Senate Race ."
Heidi Heitkamp, a Democratic Senate candidate, called Leonard Rademacher a few weeks ago looking for his vote, but Mr. Rademacher, a 74-year-old retiree, was feeling ill, so Ms. Heitkamp called him back.
“I said: ‘Heidi, save your breath. I’m voting for you,’ ” Mr. Rademacher recalled, marveling at her personal attention. “I don’t necessarily agree with her, but I trust her.”
Gary Volk backed Ms. Heitkamp, a former state attorney general, after she sat for four hours on a slab of concrete next to what was once his house, listening to his struggles to recover from catastrophic flooding last year. Larry Windus’s mind was made up by an encounter with her opponent, Representative Rick Berg, a Republican, that ended with the candidate turning his back on him.
“He’s not very personable,” said Mr. Windus, 55, a dishwasher at Charlie’s Main Street Cafe here.
Senate Republicans considered the state in their column when Senator Kent Conrad, a veteran Democrat, announced his retirement last year. But with shoe leather, calibrated attacks and likability -- an intangible that goes far in North Dakota -- Ms. Heitkamp has made this a real fight. Though North Dakota is deeply conservative and is on no one’s presidential map as a question mark, this race could be one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 contests. And, like all close races this year, it could help decide control of the Senate.
Even the National Republican Senatorial Committee conceded in its most recent attack ad here that Ms. Heitkamp is making headway. “Heidi Heitkamp: You might like her, but on the issues she’s wrong for North Dakota,” it said.
Weisman pitted "North Dakota Nice" versus GOP meanies.
In short, the campaign is a contest between North Dakota Nice and the national strategy of the Republican Party.
“Everyone’s pretty likable,” Mr. Berg said with a shrug. “The issue is not about a personality contest. This whole thing kind of boils down to, do you want someone who’s going to fight against President Obama.”
Back to Weisman's off-hand description of North Dakota as "deeply conservative." There has historically been no shortage of "deeply conservative" states from the Times' deeply liberal perspective.
On May 15, 2012, Jeff Zeleny called Nebraska a "deeply conservative state."
On March 25, 2012, Katharine Seelye and Trip Gabriel called Louisiana a "deeply conservative state."
On April 22, 2011, Kirk Johnson found Oklahoma a "deeply conservative state." (Also, Sabrina Tavernise on September 11, 2012 found Oklahoma "deeply conservative.")
On November 7, 2007, Ian Urbina said Mississippi was a "deeply conservative state."
On September 1, 2007 William Yardley identified Idaho as a "deeply conservative state."
A Nexis search indicates the Times has never used the phrase "deeply liberal state," despite the continuing existence of the Northeast and California.