Herseth Sandlin: Many hope for moderate presidential candidateFormer South Dakota congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has always sought to position herself as a moderate. Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat who served three full terms in the House and part of another, mentioned the possibility of a moderate presidential candidate during a forum at her alma mater, Georgetown University, on Oct. 28.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Former South Dakota congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has always sought to position herself as a moderate.
Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat who served three full terms in the House and part of another, mentioned the possibility of a moderate presidential candidate during a forum at her alma mater, Georgetown University, on Oct. 28.
“If ever there might be a ripe time for a third party candidate in the middle, 2012 might be an election to do it,” she said.
But Herseth Sandlin said she doubted it would happen, especially from Democrats who feel loyalty to President Obama.
She said Obama’s “pragmatic” nature leads him to seek compromise and solutions. But she said some merely want to create more division and heated discussions rather than work for answers.
But she said she is an “eternal optimist” and sees more moderates calling for a compromise and a middle path to resolving political and economic problems and conflicts.
Herseth Sandlin was on a panel with former New Jersey Republican Rep. Michael Ferguson and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, both of whom are also Georgetown graduates. It was one of six panels featuring high-profile speakers during Georgetown’s “Think About It: An Afternoon of Ideas,” which helped draw attention to the university’s new capital campaign, which has a $1.5 billion goal.
Herseth Sandlin said while there is a desire on the part of some people for an independent or third-party candidate, she doubts one will emerge.
“Given the tumultuous first term of President Obama and a Republican Party primary pulling its candidates to the far right on a number of important issues, many voters may yearn for a third option somewhere in between, but they’re unlikely to get it,” Herseth Sandlin said Thursday in an e-mail response to a question from The Daily Republic.
She said “the electorate remains volatile for a variety of reasons — anti-Washington, anti-incumbent fervor; dissatisfaction over the lack of consensus between the parties to deal effectively with deficit reduction; and the need to spur more economic growth.”
Herseth Sandlin said Obama is being pulled by supporters who call for a pragmatic approach and others who want to hold fast to their ideals and positions.
It’s also worth noting that while Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has waged a “fairly steady campaign,” she said, many in the GOP continue to seek another candidate.
The former congresswoman said some people told her they were growing concerned and dissatisfied with the direction the country was taking in 2008, after she ran for and won a full third term. Many of them were involved with the early days of the local tea party efforts, Herseth Sandlin said, but they “recoiled” when it evolved into a national conservative movement.
“And now they’re back in the Occupy Wall Street movement,” she said.
They have the same concerns and want to be active, Herseth Sandlin said, so it will be interesting to see how politics take shape in 2012.
Herseth Sandlin, 40, lost a close race to Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., in 2010. She has said she is undecided about a return to political campaigning and has made no public effort so far to run in 2012.
She now works as a principal lawyer at the Washington, D.C., firm of Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz, a law and lobbying firm.
Herseth Sandlin, who is also an adjunct professor at South Dakota State University, has a house in Brookings but spends much of her time in Washington, D.C., with her husband, former Texas congressman Max Sandlin, who is also a lobbyist, and their son, Zachary, who turns 3 next month.
She touched upon her 2010 race during the panel discussion.
“I did not survive the wave,” she said.
She said “outside groups,” who didn’t have to disclose how they raise money, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help defeat her in 2010 and did so in part by attacking a vote she cast on the stimulus and “labeling me a socialist.”
Herseth Sandlin said she would have needed a comparable amount of money to hold a discussion with voters on economic issues. It’s up to politicians and the voters to demand a higher level of discussion on economic “inequality,” she said, and reporters and editors can also do their part.
“The media has a really important role to play in upcoming months in helping frame that,” she said.
She said while voices on the extremes are being heard, “the vast middle” is not listened to enough. All too often, the media and politicians are “feeding the anger” of people who are justifiably upset over the rough times they are experiencing.
Herseth Sandlin said repeatedly that “undisclosed money,” anonymous political comments and purposeful disinformation are harming the political process. She said she remains hopeful that the 2012 presidential race will conducted on a higher level.
However, that may not happen, and that may lead to needed changes in the political ranks, she said.
“It would be a really ugly election and finally we would have this recalibration,” Herseth Sandlin said.
She declined to comment when asked about her political future by The Daily Republic. But during the Georgetown forum, the moderator made a reference to it.
“I’ll still think of you as Congresswoman Herseth until I think of you as Senator Herseth,” journalist E.J. Dionne said.
Herseth Sandlin just smiled at that comment. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., is up for re-election in 2014 and there has been speculation that if Johnson chooses to end his political career, Herseth Sandlin could become the Democratic candidate for that seat.