- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican lawmakers from the Dakotas on Wednesday savored sweeping GOP election gains, including a Senate seat for former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds and a chance for incumbents in both states to push their policies in a majority for the first time since 2006.

Rounds’ victory in flipping an open seat held by retiring Sen. Democrat Tim Johnson helped round out GOP control of the Senate. The seat was one of at least seven picked up by Republicans nationwide, with races in Alaska and Virginia yet to be called.

Only one Democrat - North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp - remains in the Dakotas’ congressional delegation. What that means from a policy perspective will take shape in the coming months. But Rounds and the senior Republican senators, John Thune of South Dakota and John Hoeven of North Dakota, plan to take up a slew of issues they said had stalled under a Democratically controlled Senate.

“Tonight was a marvelous stepping stone. … Let’s build upon it,” Rounds said after clinching victory on Tuesday night.

Thune and Hoeven said Rounds’ arrival in Washington would dovetail with renewed efforts on energy policy, limiting government overreach and applying fresh pressure to President Barack Obama.



Chief among them, Hoeven said, was legislation that would allow the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline to go forward.

“I think the Keystone XL pipeline will be one of the first we take up, and I think we have the sixty votes we need to approve it,” Hoeven said. “And it will be a big test case for the president. Whether he wants to work with us and move forward.”

Rounds campaigned on the Keystone pipeline and, more broadly, on providing a check to Obama. After wobbling during the campaign, he comfortably won an unwieldy, four-way race that included Democrat Rick Weiland and former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler running as an independent.

“I think we’ll have enough votes to actually get the Keystone XL pipeline released from captivity,” Rounds said, reiterating that less rail congestion would allow South Dakota farmers to ship more crops. “That’s a huge economic issue in South Dakota.”

Both Thune and Hoeven worked behind the scenes to get Rounds into the race before he announced and then encouraged him and gave advice as the nearly two-year Senate campaign unfolded. Hoeven, who served as governor of North Dakota at the same time Rounds was governor of South Dakota, said he thought Rounds’ background as a state leader would make him an excellent senator because he knows the importance of compromising and working with both parties.

Thune said the overall mood was “very buoyant, as you would expect. It’s always fun to win.”

Hoeven said being a part of the majority would was exciting but reflected a new responsibility, too.

“The American people want us to address important issues, now we get to do that and see if the president joins with us,” Hoeven said.

___

Associated Press writer James Nord in Sioux Falls, S.D., contributed to this report.

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