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SD Dems Exec Prefers Herseth Sandlin for House 2012 Race

Last updated on 2011.07.07

We are eight months away from the date South Dakota's 2012 candidates can circulate petitions for office. We are thirteen months away from when parties would choose any competing candidates in their primaries.

But South Dakota Democratic Party chairman Ben Nesselhuf is already making his preference for the U.S. House race clear to the Sioux City JournalBen wants Stephanie:

South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf of Vermillion told me he has "ongoing conversations" with Herseth Sandlin about a possible 2012 run. Nesselhuf wouldn't quantify ongoing with a number or frequency, but said he's not letting the topic die.

"I very much want Stephanie to be my congresswoman again, and I've told her as much," said Nesselhuf, who was a state senator for District 17 until not seeking re-election last fall [Bret Hayworth, "Nesselhuf: Ongoing Talks with Herseth Sandlin on 2012," Sioux City Journal: Politically Speaking, 2011.05.06].

The party chairman appears to be in the interesting position of telling another Democrat, publicly, to step aside. Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth said last month he plans to challenge Congresswoman Kristi Noem for her seat. Barth did say that if Herseth Sandlin runs, he will not. The party chairman seems to be saying that's the outcome he'd prefer. To date, Herseth Sandlin has made no definite statement on the topic.

So I'm curious: Is Nesselhuf trying to smoke out his preferred candidate? And are other South Dakota Democrats to consider themselves on alert that they should direct their 2012 political aspirations to offices other than U.S. House?


  1. mike 2011.05.08

    About 2 months ago I didn't think Noem was vulnerable to Herseth because SD is RED, conservative/moderate, Obama on the ballot, money etc.

    But with Noem voting to go after Medicaid and Medicare it would be a tough race if Herseth came back and called Noem a liar to her face.

    Herseth's chances are getting better by the day. But it's still going to be a 50/50 and running for Senate in 2014 would be a safer option considering the money she'd have as a Senate candidate and if she loses to Noem in '12 there is much less chance she is electable in '14.

  2. mike 2011.05.09

    The wisest move would be to have Brendan Johnson run against Noem because he would use it as a springboard for an open seat in '14 if Noem runs for the Senate.

    Brendan doesn't have to win but he can run a positive campaign, make Noem spend her money, call her out on medicare etc.

    Ben Nesselhuf is smart enough to know that Jeff Barth is a candidate that is comparable to Bruce Whalen. He will get the Dem base.

    As much as I want SHS to defeat Noem I don't see a real possiblility of her running. It is smart of Nesselhuf to continue talking her up.

    Huether is probably the 3rd best option in the state right now that I can think of.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.05.09

    So basically you're saying no one from the Dems' base can win statewide?

  4. Chris S. 2011.05.09

    The fastest way for Dems to lose in the short term, and in the long run, is to run away from their base and their core values. Pretending to be Republican Lite does nothing but demoralize the base and destroy the party's brand in the long term.

    2010 was an awful election because of the economy and because of the national "Tea Party" backlash against having a black Democrat as President. Herseth Sandlin might have lost in that year no matter what she did. However, imagine how different things might have been if she would have run on protecting Social Security and Medicare? It was no secret even back then that Kristi Noem was a fan of Paul Ryan's plan to gut both programs. Despite South Dakota being a "red" state, not all Republicans here subscribe to Republican Tiger Beat Magazine, with right-wing heartthrob Paul Ryan on the cover. Try to take away seniors' Social Security and Medicare here, and see how that goes. Now if only one of our two major parties were a traditional defender of those programs, and someone from that party could actually run on that platform... Just a pipe dream, I know.

  5. RGoeman 2011.05.09

    For Dems to Say Herseth-Sandlin is the best choice to run against Noem is like saying Obama is the best democratic choice to run for a second term as President. Who else is there that could compete? Herseth-Sandlin should wait for the rematch when she and Noem each run for Tim Johnson's Senate seat. If Stephanie is looking for a sure bet, she should challenge Dennis Daugaard as governor of SD, although that is in the distant future.

  6. moses 2011.05.09

    Mike Huether give me a break he has alientaed himself from labor forgets what he says reminds me of Thune says one thing here and another in .D.C.Herseth how can she win when she runs away from her base,but I still need your vote.

  7. moses 2011.05.09

    Some one needs to talk to Ben about softening Noem up are you listening Ben start going after her on subsidies on oil companies , go after her on Medicare ride that pony to the finish line but start now.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.05.09

    Baseless complaint there: Nesselhuf has been hammering Noem regularly in the press. The main question here is not Noem; the main question is what role the party chair has in picking the party's nominee 13 months before the primary.

  9. Linda McIntyre 2011.05.09

    Chris said above, "2010 was an awful election because... of the national “Tea Party” backlash against having a black Democrat as President." I had to read this twice to notice the word "black" in the sentence. You are 100% wrong. The Tea Party backlash is because of Obama's policies; it has nothing to do with his race. I don't care if Obama were white, black, brown, orange, yellow, striped, or polka dotted; it is his POLICIES that I disagree with, not his color. FYI I would support and vote for Herman Cain or Allen West in a heartbeat, both of whom are black.

  10. mike 2011.05.09


    I'm saying it will take someone like Herseth or Brendan Johnson because they have name id and are likely the only two who can raise the $1.5-2 million it will take to run a campaign against Noem.

    I'm not a believer in money being the sole reason someone has a chance to win but money makes a really big difference.

    - also Nesselhuf is doing a much better job than Rave for the SDGOP. Nesselhuf seems to be energizing the SDDP while Rave seems to be giving mixed signals and negatively attacking Herseth rather than defending Noem. My assumption is that means Josh Shields has seen some really scary internal poll numbers against Johnson and Herseth.

    I am not a Huether supporter but he had the desire to run for Congress or Governor in 2010. He was elected Mayor of SF and likely has the resources to make Noem spend hers rather than stock pile them. I just don't want to see Noem end up with a cake walk in 2012 so she can save her money for a US Senate race in '14.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.05.09

    Agreed: no cake walks allowed! And if the coming months and a good primary show me that SHS, Johnson, or Huether will provide the strongest challenge, I'll get on the wagon with any one of them. But there were lots of folks apparently in line ahead of Noem, and she still jumped in relatively late and prevailed. Dems should keep their eyes open for opportunities beyond the conventional list of well-known names.

  12. mike 2011.05.09

    1986 Tim Johnson 171,462 59% Dale Bell 118,261 41%
    1988 Tim Johnson 223,759 72% David Volk 88,157 28%
    1990 Tim Johnson 173,814 68% Don Frankenfeld 83,484 32%
    1992 Tim Johnson 230,070 69% John Timmer 89,375 27%
    1994 Tim Johnson 183,036 60%

    1996 Rick Weiland 119,547 37% John R. Thune 186,393 58% Stacey L. Nelson Independent 10,397 3% Kurt Evans Independent 6,866 2%
    1998 Jeff Moser 64,433 25% John R. Thune 194,157 75%
    2000 Curt Hohn 78,321 25% John R. Thune 231,083 73%

    Both parties tend to run unknowns regularly and it never works out. What happened to Herseth was an anomaly. Noem road a wave, she caught fire even before anyone knew who she was. Remember she was up 12 points on Herseth about a week after the GOP primary. No way voters knew anything about Noem after the primary they were upset and wanted to express themselves. Herseth was caught in a very odd election.

  13. mike 2011.05.09

    I agree that Noem was very unkown but she is a very articulate speaker, attractive and out going (even if she doesn't really give an opinion). Nelson and Curd are not. Noem generated enthusiasm amongst the base to get her off the ground. Plus it doesn't hurt to connect with Ted Huestad and Steve Kirby for cash like she was able to do.

    If the Dems have someone on the bench that I'm not aware of I'm all for that person running. I will still say that if another outgoing person like Dusty Johnson had gotten into the GOP primary we never would have heard of Kristi Noem because he would have taken all of the enthusiasm and dominated the primary.

    and in Chris Nelson's case just because he could win a constitutional office in SD doesn't mean he could win a congressional or Governor's seat. He has 0 charisma. Daschle, Johnson, Thune, Herseth, Noem, Brendan Johnson, Dusty Johnson all have a personable talent about them and looks have less to do with it than comfort in their own skin.

    I can't stand Noem because she is a hypocrite. She said what she had to to get elected and now she is supporting the Ryan plan and screwing up Medicare. Just like Herseth said she'd do.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.05.09

    So why can't we build some new names? Do we really have to wait for some external political phenomenon or car wreck to open the door for a leader in South Dakota?

  15. Lee Schoenbeck 2011.05.09

    Corey --
    For a Republican, reading your blog is inspirational - reminds me of what the GOP lines sounded like when you held the Daschle and Johnson seats, and then the Johnson and Herseth seats. Thanks for the pick me up 'er :) The reality is, Kristi will be there a long time, unless she jumps into the US Senate race - and those attract enough cash and interest to make anything happen.

  16. larry kurtz 2011.05.09

    Cory, why can't Republicans spell your name correctly?

    Mr. Schoenbeck seems to believe that Noem is confident that she win just because she's another Money Inspired Long Frequency.

    Democrats: get angry or flee.

  17. mike 2011.05.09

    I'm going to agree with Lee Schoenbeck on this one.

    The Dems should take a play from the GOP and build strong county organizations. The GOP candidates like Noem and any constitutional candidate benefit tremendously by having to go through the grind of 20 Lincoln Day Dinners a year around the state. Each dinner has aproximately 100-300 people depending on county size and Chairman quality.

    As far as I know Democrats have one Jefferson/Jackson Dinner a year. That would be like the SDGOP having one State Dinner and calling it good.

    People at the top of the political game like Thune don't like Lincoln Day Dinners because they don't really benefit from taking the time to attend but young candidates who want to find support around the various communities find key supporters to put up signs and do lit drops.

    Without a Lincoln Day Dinner circuit I would argue Noem couldn't have defeated Nelson. Because people won't gather to see an unkown person running for office but if a local party can gather 100 people and then invite all of the candidates it makes the better candidates rise through.

    I would say Nesselhuf is doing a good job but bottom up organization would really help Democrats in SD even if only 25 people came to an event to start out.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.05.09

    If I'm inspiring Lee I'm either doing something amazingly right or spectacularly wrong. ;-)

    Mike, I'm with you there. Dems need much more active local organizations. I would think a Dem counterpart to those Lincoln Day dinners would help us build networks and populate that Dem bench.

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