- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp announced her support Thursday for President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, a politically risky move in a Republican-dominated state where she is weighing a run for governor.

The deal now has the backing of 37 senators after Heitkamp and two Democratic colleagues joined the list on Thursday. Their support came one day after Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski provided the pivotal 34th vote to guarantee the measure would withstand an effort by Republicans to overturn it.

“I support the agreement because it is the best chance we have to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and keep America safe,” the North Dakota Democrat said in a statement. “My decision is about seeking diplomacy rather than conflict.”

Republicans unanimously oppose the deal that aims to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Heitkamp was seen as a potential candidate for governor even before Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced last month that he wouldn’t seek a second full term. Dalrymple’s announcement fanned speculation, and Heitkamp has said she plans a decision soon.

Heitkamp is the only Democrat in North Dakota’s federal delegation. Besides Dalrymple, the state also includes a GOP supermajority in the Legislature. Only three Democratic presidential candidates have carried North Dakota since statehood, most recently Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Heitkamp, who is recovering from hip replacement surgery, would be making a second run at governor. She lost a bid in 2000 to former GOP Gov. John Hoeven, who now is in the U.S. Senate.

She has sought to make her political independence part of her identity, emphasizing it during her Senate campaign in 2012 and pushing back against claims that she would be an Obama loyalist. She has been harshly critical of the president’s energy policy, is pro-oil and supports gun rights. Many North Dakotans have viewed her as more of an independent than a Democrat.

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