MERCER: Without Democrats, SD voters lack a choice
PIERRE -- Quit lamenting the current weakness of the South Dakota Democratic Party.
True, it doesn't have candidates for governor or U.S. House of Representatives. The party's only candidate for U.S. Senate has run and lost twice for U.S. House.
And the state chairman and executive director announced he's resigning in order to manage a congressional campaign -- in Iowa.
But Democrats are no deader now than they were other times in South Dakota's past century.
Most of us just haven't seen such disarray before by one half of our state's two-party system.
The presence of the Democrats in elections is important because voters expect choices.
When one party doesn't field candidates, such as the pass Democrats gave Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune for re-election in 2010, voters get cheated. Democracy is weakened.
Those who are bullies grow bolder. Questionable ideas gain traction more easily.
But don't pronounce the Democratic Party dead in South Dakota.
Instead, recall when, why and how Democrats won major state and congressional offices in a state where Republicans generally always were the dominant party.
Candidates' personalities and vigor matter.
So do voters' moods, economic and political conditions, federal actions, party unity, term limits, retirements, Republicans' disaffection, Democrats' enthusiasm and election-day turnout.
All, or most, of these elements came together in those elections when Democrats posted victories.
That is how South Dakota saw Ralph Herseth and Dick Kneip be chosen as governor a total of four times.
And that is how George McGovern, Frank Denholm, Jim Abourezk, Tom Daschle, Tim Johnson and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin won seats in Congress.
At least one Democrat represented South Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate continuously since 1963. With the exception of one two-year period, that's been true since 1957.
The fretting now is the streak looks like it will end for Democrats in 2014.
Democrat U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson announced he wouldn't seek re-election. He is the only statewide officeholder in South Dakota left who is a Democrat.
So far only former Daschle aide Rick Weiland is willing to step forward as a Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate. Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds is the only member of his party running at this point.
Their histories as candidates suggest the real question will be whether Weiland can hold Rounds to less than 60 percent of the vote.
But without Weiland, voters don't get any choice.
People tend to overlook some other numbers. For the general elections from 1970 through 2012, voter registration increased by about 61,500 Republicans, 55,400 Democrats and 60,700 independents and other affiliations.
As of July 1, registration stood at 245,017 Republicans, 189,773 Democrats, 99,178 independents and 1,614 various others.
Independents have roughly tripled since 1970, suggesting voters want choices. Meanwhile, since 2002, Republicans have worked hard to oust every Democrat state office-holder.
They took out Pam Nelson, Tom Daschle, Jim Burg, Bryce Healy and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Steve Kolbeck and Tim Johnson chose to retire.
If Republicans finish the house cleaning in 2014, South Dakota politics will be back to 1954, when Republicans last held everything -- and Democrats were one election from starting 50 years of successes.