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Family pulling Herseth Sandlin toward, away from political race

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin meets with The Daily Republic editorial board in this October 2010 image. (Republic file photo)

RAPID CITY -- The very family dynamics that have Stephanie Herseth Sandlin thinking about passing on a run for the U.S. Senate are also what's driving her in the direction of a revived political career.

In short, she wants to run for the U.S. Senate to find ways to support working families and young children. But she wants to nurture her own family and 4-year-old son at a critical time in their lives.

"I continue to struggle with the decision," Herseth Sandlin said Wednesday. "I love my family life. I'm enjoying the time and all the plans we have made for summer.

"On the flip side, working moms deserve an effective voice in policy-making."

She will announce a decision by the end of this month, she said.

The former congresswoman's name shot back into the news once Sen. Tim Johnson, DS.D., announced he would retire after 28 years on Capitol Hill, 18 of them in the Senate. Johnson's son and U.S. attorney for South Dakota, Brendan Johnson, is also widely viewed as a likely Senate candidate in 2014. Whichever Democrat emerges as that party's candidate will likely face former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, the only candidate so far to announce he's running.

During an interview Wednesday, Herseth Sandlin spoke with enthusiasm about public policy issues, ticking off a series of areas she thinks need work, including sexual assault in the military and early childhood education.

She had addressed a Rapid City crowd assembled to raise funds for preschool scholarships through the pilot program Starting Strong Rapid City. That organization, modeled on a similar Sioux Falls program, pairs low-income and at-risk children with high quality preschool programs and pays the tuition using private donations.

The long-term value of such early investments was repeated by Herseth Sandlin, and in messages from Rapid City's mayor, the school superintendent and former police chief.

Studies have shown that quality preschool leads to better academic performance throughout life, higher earning and less criminal activity, several speakers said.

"These are programs that can change the trajectory of children that might be on a tougher path early on," Herseth Sandlin told the crowd. "The return on investment that even conservative studies show are $7 for every $1 spent. If we can change the trajectory at 3, 4 or 5, that's what matters most. This is essential infrastructure."

Herseth Sandlin's son, Zachary, attends preschool three half-days a week. She works as general counsel and vice president of corporate development at Raven Industries in Sioux Falls, a job she called "tremendous."

She finds a lot of overlap from her time in Congress with the issues facing technological companies such as Raven, and said she's getting to work as "a regular lawyer." (She holds a law degree from Georgetown University.)

"I love being part of an executive team working to take the company to the next level and serving our communities," she said.

As her iPhone buzzed every few seconds with incoming messages, Herseth Sandlin talked also about her parents -- Zachary's grandparents -- who relish their time with family and about her friends who have children of a similar age.

"Our time together isn't just about politics," she said, pivoting quickly to emphasize the need to support families through public policy.

"Whether it's 2014 or somewhere down the road, in government or community endeavors, I'm going to find a way to serve," she said.