Opinion: S.D. awaits move by Herseth Sandlin
Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin tends to be a pretty cool cucumber, but there is a gaggle of political types who would love to put her under some hot lights and sweat a few answers out of her. Or perhaps just the answer to one question: F...
Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin tends to be a pretty cool cucumber, but there is a gaggle of political types who would love to put her under some hot lights and sweat a few answers out of her. Or perhaps just the answer to one question: For what office will she run in 2010?
That's because what the 38-year-old Democrat does next will determine the fate of every other major office on the 2010 ballot.
"A lot hinges on what she decides to do," said Don Simmons, dean of the College of Public Service, Leadership and Graduate Studies at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell.
Herseth Sandlin has said recently that she will announce her decision later this summer. In the meantime, others who might want to run for something will have trouble raising money due to the uncertainty, Simmons said. And that makes folks all the more antsy.
"It puts everything else on hold," Simmons said.
Herseth Sandlin has essentially three choices. She could 1) run for re-election to her House seat; 2) run for governor, or 3) challenge John Thune for his U.S. Senate seat.
Each of these choices comes with consequences that affect both Herseth Sandlin's fellow Democrats and Republicans in the mix.
n A run for re-election to a fourth U.S. House term -- This is the safest option for Herseth Sandlin, which makes it as likely as any bolder move. Politicians tend to be risk-averse, and Herseth Sandlin is more so than most.
If she runs, then all other comers are almost certainly shut out. Barring a huge scandal, a Herseth Sandlin race in 2010 will look a lot like her 2008 race when the she won with 67 percent of the vote.
If she opts for another office, then there's an open House seat. Every ambitious politician in the state will be licking their chops and we'd almost certainly see primaries in both parties. (I would predict a general election contest between Democrat Brendan Johnson and Republican Dusty Johnson should this seat open up. Johnson vs. Johnson.)
Herseth Sandlin recently sent out a fundraising e-mail asking donors to show their "early support" for her re-election. Some might see this as a sign she'll play it safe. I see it as her keeping her options open.
n A run for governor -- The congresswoman has not been shy in admitting that she's considering running for the office once held by her grandfather, Ralph Herseth, and narrowly lost by her father, Lars Herseth. If the family connection isn't enough, a victory in this race would wrest the state's executive office from three decades of GOP rule and give her plenty of time to still serve in the U.S. Senate.
Herseth Sandlin would most likely face Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who has been raising money for years already and would otherwise be a safe bet as South Dakota's next governor. If she doesn't run, the Democrats will have to run a less well-known -- and thereby less well-funded -- candidate. Scott Heidepriem, now the minority leader in the state Senate, is most often mentioned for this role.
n A challenge to John Thune for the U.S. Senate -- Because of the huge risk involved in such a move, this is the least likely option. However, Herseth Sandlin has declined to rule this out, and Simmons notes that she's almost certainly being pressured by national party leaders to go this route. She's the only viable challenger to Thune, and party leaders will want to do all they can to shore up the Democrats' tenuous hold on the U.S. Senate.
If she makes this bold move, South Dakota will endure another major U.S. Senate race. Both candidates would be funded to a degree that would rival South Dakota's annual state budget, and the outcome would be uncertain at best.
Historically, the party out of power tends to win these mid-term elections, which would give the edge to Thune in such a race. The most notable exception is 1934, when Democrats gained seats in Congress during FDR's first term. But if ever there were a mid-term election that resembles 1934, it will be 2010.
Should Herseth Sandlin decline to take this risk, we can toss the historical analysis out the window, and Thune easily walks back into his Senate seat.
As we all await word from the congresswoman, the intensity of the speculation will rise along with the summer temperatures.
Denise Ross publishes Hoghouseblog.com and writes about South Dakota's congressional delegation from Rapid City.