(CNN) – Democrats in North Dakota welcomed Heidi Heitkamp to the state's open U.S. Senate race following her official announcement Tuesday.
The former state attorney general said she is launching her bid because with a badly broken Washington, the state needs an "independent voice who will go there to stand up for North Dakota."
"With me, the people of North Dakota always have and always will come first," Heitkamp said in a statement.
Republican freshman Rep. Rick Berg is the current favorite in the 2012 race. Influential Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad announced earlier this year he will not seek a fifth term in the Republican-leaning state.
Democrats were quick to tout Heitkamp's independent streak in the state that went for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and former President George W. Bush in 2004. While no Democrat has won the state in a presidential election since 1964, the party controlled the state's entire congressional delegation until last year.
A statement from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee compared Heitkamp to Conrad, who "strongly encouraged" her to run.
"Heidi Heitkamp is no generic Democrat," the DSCC statement read. "She is an independent, reform-minded, fiscal conservative, who is widely known across the state for her tough, principled leadership as Attorney General."
Guy Cecil, executive director of the DSCC, told CNN last week that the race is "number one" on its list of contests that could become competitive in the next election.
Two of the top non-partisan political handicappers, Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook, have the race listed as "Republican favored" and "Likely Republican," respectively.
Democrats currently have a 53-47 majority in the Senate. They are defending 23 seats - 21 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party - next year. Republicans are defending 10 seats.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, in charge of electing Senate Republicans in 2012, sought to tie Heitkamp, an energy company director, to President Barack Obama.
"If North Dakotans want four more years of President Obama's tax-and-spend agenda then Heidi is their candidate," NRSC Communications Director Brian Walsh said in a statement. "But unlike the liberal Washington Democrats who recruited her into this race, she's too far to the left of many voters in North Dakota."
"We look forward to the very close contrast that this race presents," Walsh added.
- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.