Washington Post – June 2, 2004
Democrat wins in South Dakota special election
By Joe Kafka
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Democrats looking ahead to November got a bounce with the victory of Stephanie Herseth in a special election, marking the party's second straight congressional triumph and snatching a House seat in a heavily GOP-leaning state.
Herseth, a member of one of the state's most distinguished political families, narrowly defeated Republican Larry Diedrich in Tuesday's poll. She will immediately fill the seat of Bill Janklow, who resigned his seat before he went to jail over a deadly auto accident.
"We ran a positive, truthful campaign based on issues, not negative attacks," Herseth, 33, told a room of cheering, chanting supporters early Wednesday. She vowed to "always do what's right for the entire state."
Herseth now will serve out the seven months left in Janklow's term. She and Diedrich will meet again in November to compete for a full two-year term, but Herseth will have the advantage of incumbency in holding South Dakota's lone House seat.
The race was closely watched by national parties eager to pick up momentum ahead of the fall campaign.
The Republican and Democratic House campaign committees waged media blitzes in South Dakota, pouring $2 million into TV ads in a rural state of 765,000 people. In March, Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned for Diedrich in South Dakota. The parties also sent waves of supporters to the state to mobilize voters.
Herseth's win coincided with Democratic claims that a national tide is running their way. Recent polling shows support slumping for President Bush as well as for the Republican majority in the House.
Even after victories in South Dakota and in a special congressional election in Kentucky earlier this year, Democrats still must pick up 11 more seats in November to gain control of the House.
Republicans disputed Democratic claims about an anti-GOP trend. They noted that Herseth began the race with a huge lead, the residue of having run unsuccessfully for the seat in 2002.
They also emphasized that Diedrich had managed to close the margin in the polls dramatically in the race's final weeks. (The Associated Press)
The Christian Science Monitor - June 03, 2004
Democrats see opportunity to win back House
Special-election wins put Democrats within 11 seats, but still facing big hurdles
By Gail Russell Chaddock
WASHINGTON - A win in South Dakota's closely watched special election this week brings Democrats within 11 seats of taking back the House - far fewer than insurgent Republicans needed to wrest it from them a decade ago.
For a minority eager to get back control of the House they dominated for 39 years, Tuesday's victory is a sign that the political tides may be shifting back in their favor.
But, even the most partisan insiders concede, the advantage for incumbents on Capitol Hill is now so formidable that it will take a tsunami to get over the top - and many more candidates like Stephanie Herseth.
Bright, energetic, and deeply rooted in South Dakota's political scene back two generations, Ms. Herseth looked like a winner even when she lost her 2002 bid for the seat to that state's governor, Republican William Janklow. After Representative Janklow resigned in January, following a conviction for manslaughter, she vaulted to virtual incumbent, with a double-digit lead in the polls.
Despite the erosion of Herseth's lead to 2 percentage points, Democrats claim a significant victory. "If we can win in South Dakota, where George Bush took 60 percent of the vote, we can win anywhere," says Kori Bernard, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Following on a recent victory for Democrats in Kentucky, "It's the first time in 30 years that two Republican-held seats have elected Democrats in a special election," she adds. Democrat Ben Chandler (D) of Kentucky, the state's attorney general, won what had been a Republican House seat in a special election in February.
In addition, polls are trending toward Democrats, who are favored over Republicans 51 percent to 49 in generic congressional ballots. Most Americans now say that the nation is on the "wrong track," and President Bush's approval ratings are tanking to the mid-40s.
But political handicappers caution that there are high structural hurdles for Democrats hoping to take advantage of these trends, especially the impact of redistricting and the soaring costs of toppling an incumbent.
One of the toughest obstacles to a Democratic takeover of the House is the impact of recent redistricting inTexas, which gives a strong advantage to the GOP. "You can't underestimate the power Texas might have in this election," she says. On a bad night for Democrats, Republicans could pick up as many as six seats. Even if Democrats do hold onto their incumbents they could lose three or four seats in Texas."
While about half of seats in the 435-member House were deemed "competitive" in the early 1960s, political handicappers say there are only about 7 percent, that are competitive today.