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Congresswoman commits to debate at Corn Palace

The lineup for the Aug. 28 Daily Republic-Corn Palace Festival Debate is complete.

A staffer for Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., said Thursday that the congresswoman will attend the event. It is being organized by The Daily Republic with cooperation from the city of Mitchell.

Herseth Sandlin's opponent in the U.S. House race and both gubernatorial candidates had already committed prior to Thursday. The gubernatorial debate will begin at 11 a.m., followed by the U.S. House debate at about noon. The debates will be held indoors at the Corn Palace in Mitchell during the Saturday of the Corn Palace Festival, which runs Aug. 25-29.

Herseth Sandlin issued a statement Thursday to The Daily Republic about her decision to join the debate.

"I always put South Dakota's interests before politics or party, and that's why I voted against the Wall Street and automobile bailouts, cap and trade and a trillion dollar health-care bill, while working to promote renewable energy and ensure veterans receive the benefits they deserve," she said. "I'm looking forward to talking to voters at the Corn Palace about my strong record as an independent voice for our state."

Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said he is excited to host the event during the annual Corn Palace Festival, which features musical entertainment, carnival rides, food vendors and other offerings to attendees up and down Main Street.

"This is fantastic," Schilling said. "The debate will surely draw a large crowd to the Corn Palace -- not only from the Mitchell region, but from the entire state of South Dakota."

The general election is scheduled for Nov. 2. The gubernatorial race pits Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, against state Sen. Scott Heidepriem, a Democrat. In the U.S. House race, Herseth Sandlin faces Republican state Rep. Kristi Noem.

Also in the U.S. House race is independent candidate B. Thomas Marking. Daily Republic Publisher Korrie Wenzel said Marking will not be invited to the debate unless he shows significant improvement in the polls. Recent poll numbers show Herseth Sandlin and Noem with combined support of 93 percent.

"We are bringing in the top candidates so people have a chance to hear from the people who are most likely to win," Wenzel said.

Wenzel said a panel is being assembled to form questions for the debates. So far, that panel consists of Daily Republic Editor Seth Tupper, a registered independent; Republican state Rep. Noel Hamiel; and longtime former state legislator and current city councilman Mel Olson, a Democrat. All three are from Mitchell.

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is running unopposed for re-election and therefore won't be involved in a debate, but he has been invited to speak at the event.

"This has all the makings of a great debate," Wenzel said. "Getting a chance to ask four candidates from two major races questions is a big opportunity, not only for The Daily Republic but for the people of Mitchell and the area. That day, the Corn Palace Festival will be the center of South Dakota politics, and that's been our goal all along."