Monthly Archives: October 2010

History and momentum in the U.S. House contest

Rarely have South Dakota voters turned out an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Tuesday might be such an election. If Republican challenger Kristi Noem indeed defeats Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Noem will join a short list of some big names in South Dakota politics.

The last time that an incumbent House member lost re-election in South Dakota was 1982. That race comes with an asterisk, however, because it was a consolidation election, as South Dakota lost a House district. That November, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Daschle beat Republican U.S. Rep. Clint Roberts. An incumbent had to lose.

In 1974, Republican challenger Larry Pressler took down Democratic U.S. Rep. Frank Denholm for the old East River seat in the House, amid the distrust sown by the Watergate scandal. In 1956, Democratic challenger George McGovern defeated Republican U.S. Rep. Harold Lovre for the East River seat, amid unrest over the Eisenhower administration’s farm policy. In 1932, the watershed of the Depression, Democratic challenger Fred Hildebrandt topped Republican U.S. Rep. Charles A. Christopherson in an election year that was a nearly-clean sweep for Democrats in South Dakota and nationally.

Herseth Sandlin, like Denholm, Lovre and Christopherson, seems to have been caught in something bigger nationally this year. The economy’s sharp plunge didn’t hurt her two years ago, but the continued high unemployment and the investment markets’ inability to fully recover have fueled pessimism. The past two years of the new Obama administration haven’t been kind to her in other ways. She seemed powerless when, as President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, his EPA immediately took positions that effectively blocked the Big Stone II powerplant expansion and Basin Electric’s proposed Walworth County plant. EPA’s large fines for ethanol plants was another blow. She was caught in the middle on the president’s and the Democratic congressional majorities’ overhaul of health coverage, first voting against it, then dodging a primary challenge from a Rapid City doctor and subsequently voting to not allow an attempt to repeal parts of it. The final blow might have been inattentiveness on the B-1B bomber funding.

Herseth Sandlin missed the 2008 state Democratic convention for reasons stil unexplained. Had Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson not sought re-election in 2008, the seat easily might have been won by Herseth Sandlin. She instead ran for re-election to the House and won in every one of South Dakota’s 66 counties. Yet few South Dakotans seem to have met her husband, former Texas U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin. And as any parent can attest, having a baby changes life. The Democrats’ failure to field an opponent this year to Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune meant Herseth Sandlin was the senior Democrat in charge of her party’s field operations to get out the vote this fall. It also meant Thune had all the time he wanted in these final days to join Noem on a bus tour to rally voters across the state.

For Thune, a defeat of Herseth Sandlin removes the most likely challenger to the Senate seat he holds. Johnson, meanwhile, physically still wasn’t in a position to help Herseth Sandlin after his December 2006 emergency brain surgery. Nor has the Democratic candidate for governor, Scott Heidepriem, been in a position to help Herseth Sandlin. He’s more unpopular than she is, and he was Obama’s campaign chairman in South Dakota two years ago. Johnson’s PAC has been able to help Heidepriem more than Herseth Sandlin. 

It was Noem, by the way, who publicly challenged Heidepriem during a state legislative committee hearing two years ago about his law firm’s ties to the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit against state government over more slot machines for the tribe’s casino. Heidepriem has tried for two years to get casino gambling into the Sioux Falls area, and the proposal seems to have irrevocably hurt his candidacy and further limited any help he might have been able to give Herseth Sandlin. Noem’s highway signs often have appeared next to Republican governor candidate Dennis Daugaard’s signs in the rural areas of South Dakota, dating back to the last weeks of the primary, and the association likely hasn’t hurt her.

Both of the top Democratic names on the ballot have clearly been uncomfortable bearing their party’s name this election cycle. Heidepriem ran as a self-described “independent Democrat” and Herseth Sandlin, while officially still a Democrat, refers to herself on her campaign Internet site only as an independent. Noem’s speeding tickets and related offenses of failing to appear in court after failing to timely pay her fines briefly gave Herseth Sandlin a lead in the Rasmussen polling, but that lead vanished with time, even as Herseth Sandlin and her allies including various county prosecutors continued to drive that topic. It didn’t help her that her father, former legislator and governor candidate Lars Herseth, and Heidepriem and Daugaard had nearly as many tickets as Noem.

So Herseth Sandlin is fighting from a deep hole, while Noem seems to have the advantage of more enthusiasm among Republican voters and organizers than could be found among Democrats during the important final month of the campaign. This was reflected in the gains made in Republican voter registration since the June primary election and down the stretch between Oct. 1 and the final day of registration Oct. 18. In that final stretch Republicans added 1,903 registered voters and Democrats 900, while independents increased 1,497.  The newspaper endorsements this past week ran 6-0 in favor of Daugaard over Heidepriem but split in the U.S. House race, with three for Herseth Sandlin and two for Noem.

Herseth — she wasn’t married yet — received 45.6 percent of the vote in a three-way race in her first run for the House in 2002. She received a second chance when the winner, Republican Bill Janklow, was convicted of manslaughter in the traffic death of a motorcyclist. Herseth won the 2004 June special election with 50.6 percent of the vote against Republican Larry Diedrich. She won their rematch that November for a full term with 53.4 percent in a three-way race. She won another term in 2006 with 69.1 percent. Her 2008 victory was with 67.6 percent. The most recent independent surveys by experienced polling firms put her October levels of support in the range of 43 to 45 percent.  If those numbers are right, she would be back where she began eight autumns ago.

Endorsements: Herseth Sandlin 3, Noem 2

Could this get any closer? The editorial boards for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the Aberdeen American News newspapers today endorsed the re-election of Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, while the Rapid City Journal endorsed Republican challenger Kristi Noem. Herseth Sandlin also was endorsed by the Mitchell Daily Republic earlier, while Noem was endorsed by the Pierre Capital Journal. We’re checking the web sites of other papers to see their endorsements in this very tight contest.

Johnson puts more big money on Heidepriem

Democrat Scott Heidepriem reported $19,950 in additional large contributions to his campaign for governor Friday, while Republican Dennis Daugaard reported $3,500. Heidepriem received $10,000 from South Dakota First, the political action committee of Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson. Heidepriem also got $10,000 last year from Johnson’s federal PAC and $65,000 earlier this year, for a total of $85,000 so far from the senator. Daugaard’s two largest donations reported Friday were $1,000 more from the South Dakota Retailers PAC and $1,000 from the Retailers’ executive director Shawn Lyons. The Retailers previously gave $1,000 to Daugaard and $500 to Heidepriem.

Endorsements: Daugaard 6, Heidepriem 0

Newspaper editorial boards don’t decide elections, voters do.  Nonetheless, it’s noteworthy that Republican Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard has a clean sweep so far in newspaper endorsements for governor against Senate Democratic leader Scott Heidepriem. Today the Sioux Falls Argus Leader endorsed Daugaard over Heidepriem. Daugaard had already picked up the endorsements of the Aberdeen American News, the Rapid City Journal, the Pierre Capital Journal, the Mitchell Daily Republic and the Sioux City Journal.

Republicans take bigger lead in voter registration

Here are the final voter-registration numbers heading into Tuesday’s general elections in South Dakota, and the news has gotten better for Republicans and worse for Democrats.

Republican registration stands at 237,809. Democratic registration is 194,204. Independents registration is 85,296. Constitution Party registrants number 336, Libertarians 1080 and “other” 636. The total of active voters for the Nov. 2 contests is 519,361.

Since the June primary elections, Republicans have gained 3,024. Democrats have gained 181. Independents have increased 2,893.

Since Oct. 1, Republicans have gained 1,903. Democrats have gained 900 (they lost registration in the months of June, July and August to a low of 192,969 on Sept. 1). Independents have increased 1,497.

These are the signs of a Republican surge building and a Democratic organization in a state of struggle.

Late money flowing into governor’s campaign

State law requires candidates to file supplemental reports for contributions received after the closing date for their pre-general election campaign finance reports. Through Thursday, Democratic governor candidate Scott Heidepriem has filed supplemental reports showing $26,000 of additional contributions since Oct. 22, while Republican governor candidate Dennis Daugaard has filed supplementals showing $44,750.

Heidepriem’s single largest source of new cash was $10,000 from the Lincoln County Democrats organization; Daugaard’s single largest was $5,000 from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad’s PAC. The Lincoln County Democratic contribution to Heidepriem is noteworthy, because the committee raised $14,245 including $10,250 in direct contributions, with $10,000 of those direct contributions coming from one person whose address is on the other side of South Dakota in Pennington County, John Leach of Rapid City.

Regarding Scott Heidepriem’s forehead — UPDATED!!!

Yes, his forehead. Last night, Democratic governor candidate Scott Heidepriem sent an email to his supporters imploring them to go to the WNAX Internet site and vote for him in the Yankton radio station’s on-line poll. This afternoon, Heidepriem issued a new email to supporters calling on them to protest his treatment on the WNAX Internet site because it “has an offensive post making fun of a picture of Scott Heidepriem.” The email included phone numbers for the station. Here’s the link if you want to see for yourself what the Heidepriem campaign has labeled as a “despicable and obviously partisan decision by the WNAX staff.” In case WNAX takes it down in the meantime, here’s a description of what’s there: A portrait-style photograph of Heidepriem with snapshots of travel destinations flickering across his forehead. The prankster, Steve Crawford, said he was trying to find a projection screen for the slide show.

NEWS FLASH: This update just in… Scott’s forehead has been taken down from the WNAX website. It’s been replaced by photo of a nice looking fellow with “Sorry” written across his forehead, along with a top-and-bottom caption that reads, “The ‘Sophomoric’ picture of Scott Heidepriem has been taken down. To the scores of people who received a bulk email from the Heidepriem campaign to complain about our ‘tasteless’ attempt at satire, we are sorry.” And so another dig is delivered with the reference to “scores” (as in “twenties”).  As they say, Scott, quit digging.

Next governor has Lottery seats to decide

The winner of South Dakota’s election for governor next week will have many state board and commission appointments to consider early in his term. Some of the first will be three seats on the state’s Lottery Commission. The current terms of Susan Shay Brugger of Brookings, Tom Leckey of Pierre and Doug Sharp of Watertown all expire on Jan. 1, 2011.  Norm Lingle, the Lottery’s administrator, said he expects that Gov. Mike Rounds will leave those decisions for the next governor. Lingle said the three commissioners can continue to serve until they are reappointed or their successors are officially named. State law says a term on the commission is three years, and the same law limits commissioners to no more than two consecutive terms. Brugger and Leckey originally were appointed by Rounds in 2003, and Sharp in 2005. The other four commissioners are Duane Schmautz of Pierre and Virginia Nelson of Rapid City, whose terms expire on Jan. 1, 2012; and Kory Menken of Dakota Dunes and Dick Werner of Huron, whose terms expire Jan. 1, 2013.

D.C. newspaper’s poll found Herseth Sandlin ahead

The Hill, one of the specialty political publications covering Congress, commissoned nationwide polling in congressional districts earlier this month. Its South Dakota survey, done by pollster Mark Penn’s firm, of 399 likely voters during Oct. 16-19 found 45 percent support for Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and 42 percent for Republican challenger Kristi Noem, with 10 percent undecided. The results didn’t reflect “none” or “some other candidate” choices, which likely will be important in the three-way race that includes independent B. Thomas Marking. The margin of possible error was 4.9 percent. 

What remains interesting is that in poll after poll, whether this one by the Penn Schoen Berland firm, or those for the Rasmussen organization, or the Mason Dixon firm’s work for KELO-TV and the Argus Leader, Herseth Sandlin consistently remains in the 41 to 47 percent range.

The three most recent polls this month put Herseth Sandlin at 43, 44 or 45 percent, and Noem at 42, 45 or 49 percent. That suggests more upside for Noem, depending upon who turns out.

Regarding Haley Barbour, Part II

So much for the protest rally that Democratic governor candidate Scott Heidepriem tried to drum up yesterday against the visit by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on behalf of Republican governor candidate Dennis Daugaard in Sioux Falls. One person, a Heidepriem staffer, showed up and handed out news releases to reporters. As one attendee asked afterward, “Is it a rally if no one is there?” Heidepriem called Barbour’s visit “an indication of the desperation of the Daugaard campaign to rally support.” This was not long after the KELO-TV/Argus Leader poll results were released that showed Daugaard leading Heidepriem 54 percent to 35 percent among 800 people surveyed Oct. 21-22.