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Herseth Sandlin Still Faces Hard Sell to Left Wing

Lest anyone get too excited about Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's strong showing in the Madville Times Easter poll on potential South Dakota Senate candidates, here's a reminder that SHS's Blue Doggery still sticks in the craw of some members of the Democratic base:

Blue Dogs like to say they're "just" fiscal conservatives. They are fiscal conservatives and almost always vote against economic justice, against the interests of working families and in the interests of the Wall Street banksters and corporations that subsidize their cushy careers. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin was a 3 term Rep from South Dakota and Blue Dog chairman until she was defeated, 48.1% to 45.9%, in the Great Blue Dog Apocalypse of 2010. She managed to amass one of the most right-wing voting records of any Democrat in Congress -- and not just on fiscal conservatism. She could almost always be counted on to back the Republicans on nearly their entire reactionary agenda. Let's take LGBT equality, since it's so much in the news lately. She's wasn't just against equality. There is no other way to describe Stephanie Herseth Sandlin than as a vicious homophobic bigot and hatemonger and dedicated, gratuitous enemy of LGBT families [Howie Klein, "Far Right Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin Is Lusting for a DC Comeback," Down with Tyranny, 2013.03.29].


I would not use such vicious language to describe Zach's mom. This language comes from Howie Klein, strong liberal activist and blogger from Los Angeles. In his Friday post, he points to Herseth Sandlin's 2004 vote for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Klein expresses further left-wing angst with Herseth Sandlin's 2009 votes against the American Clean Energy and Security Act (which included a cap-and-trade provision for carbon emissions) and against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and her acceptance of significant donations from the National Rifle Association. Given this record, Klein declares our gal Stephanie "unqualified to run for office as a Democrat."

Klein says "normal" South Dakota Democrats are pushing for U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson to run for Senate. Funny: Johnson has done good equal rights work in his current job, but I haven't heard him issue policy statements (and I wouldn't expect him to, not as U.S. Attorney) on gay marriage, cap and trade, ObamaCare, or the NRA that would put left-wing-celebratory daylight between himself and SHS.

Klein's language may be extreme, but his point matters: to Democratic observers outside South Dakota, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin looks like a Republican. Maybe we don't cotton to out-staters interfering in our politics (and there are a bunch of Republicans hoping to heck that out-state conservatives don't get involved in a Senate primary against that darned conservative faker M. Michael Rounds). But frankly, South Dakota Democrats can use all the help they can get. Rep. Kristi Noem had enough GOP cred to get out-of-state Republicans to send her over $1.3 million to help her beat Matt Varilek in 2012. If South Dakota Dems want to keep their Senate seat and win back the House, they might do well to find candidates who can fire up the base here and abroad.

Klein's commentary reminds us that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin will still have some trouble lighting that fire. The big question will be whether she or any South Dakota willing to run can win enough dollars and votes from the middle to succeed without tapping the pool of avid progressive supporters.


  1. Rorschach 2013.04.02

    The lay of the land on gay marriage is far, far different in 2013 than it was in 2004. Any Democrat from a red state in 2004 who was for gay marriage would have been immediately voted out of office.

    How's that saying go? God grant me the the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

    Even now, cautious Democrats like Matt Varilek and Tim Johnson aren't (openly) for gay marriage. I predict Tim Johnson will evolve to be in favor of it very soon. The time has come. Grant them the courage.

  2. Kal Lis 2013.04.02

    Wait--Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin is not a liberal who seeks to undermine the very foundations of all that God fearing Americans hold dear?

    Instead she's a conservative who will sell out to the highest bidder at the drop of hat?

    I may vote for her even if she's not on the ballot for any office. Anyone who can be that politically schizophrenic deserves a vote.

  3. David Newquist 2013.04.02

    You are right that the language of Klein's post goes into the territory of accusation and assumption of nefarious motives that is more characteristic of the other side, but it does identify some lingering problems. Sam Hurst's posts on Herseth Sandlin [] identify concerns about her over-calculation in attempting to represent the conservative nature of the state more accurately. There are very powerful Democratic forces in the state with whom she does not seem reconciled, and those forces seem to be present in the promotion of Brendan Johnson as a candidate. On the other hand, as Sam Hurst points out, Herseth Sandlin's intelligence and talent can be measured against the near-terrifying vacuity of Kristi Noem. Her record is precisely what she promised in her campaign, the utterance of banalities and absurdities and no substantial accomplishment. While Herseth Sandlin may have voted in ways that discouraged some Democrats, she also had some legislative accomplishments in agriculture and veterans' affairs.

    The Democratic Party is withering from attrition, both of physical beings and a growing sense that Democratic values and goals might be achieved elsewhere and through political movement outside the state. Those who kept the party's principles burning as a source of light have either died or moved on. Currently, the party is letting its agenda be determined too much by the fringe from its opposition and is missing the opportunity to raise the voting and position records of Noem, Thune, and Rounds and show what they have, in fact, done to the state.

    Like good snow birds, many are simply "wintering" elsewhere to escape the chill of stultification that the single-party rule has made the state's legacy.

  4. Garyd 2013.04.02

    Perhaps Democrats in South Dakota need to realize that compared to liberal leaning people in California most of us are more conservative than they are.

    And to all left wing fringe in SD, I guess you would rather lose an election rather than have a candidate that most moderates in the state could support.

  5. Jeff Barth 2013.04.02

    Herseth-Sandlin's greatest handicap seems to be that she has expressed opinions and cast votes. Brendon Johnson has never expressed an opinion on Gay marriage, oil pipelines, legalized drugs, North Korea or gun control. He may be just the right fella, he may not. Soon we will find out but we only know Johnson's lineage not his thinking. Until we get to know him better there is no reason to make a decision on a Democratic Senatorial candidate.

  6. Owen Reitzel 2013.04.02

    As a liberal I have problems with SHS as well. But if we follow what Klein says we're no better than the far-right Republicans (Stace Nelson) that call moderate Republicans Democrats. As a party we have to all get along and work together.
    We're a big enough party to included ALL Democrats.
    George McGovern pulled together conservative, moderate and liberal Democrats together and still maintained his liberal beliefs.
    Now that McGovern is gone we have to stay together and remember that we have 3 short-term goals.
    1) keep the Senate seat democratic
    2) Get Noem out of office
    3) Get Daugaard out of office

    All for the good of the state we love

  7. WayneB 2013.04.02

    I find it ironic we're talking about a fake conservative running against a fake liberal... just chew on that a little bit...

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.03

    Munch munch munch... yum, Wayne! A Rounds-SHS race could be a test case in the ability of South Dakota to resist polarization. Klein is shouting about SHS the same way the DeMint group is shouting about Rounds. Both factions want a more radical partisan (in the belief, of course, that their radical partisanship is right). But in a battle of middledom in South Dakota, Republicans win by default, as the Republican portrays himself as the common sense center, the Democrat runs from her label and says "Me too," and the voters think, "If they're both acting like Republicans, why don't I just vote for the real Republican?"

  9. Jessie Elder 2013.04.03

    Aren't you all forgetting the SD independent voters? In this state where Republicans seem to rule everything and Democrats whine but don't ever accomplish change, the independent voter is often left with no reasonble choices. I'll never vote for Stephanie again, not after her BlueDog performance, but what am I offered as an alternative?

  10. larry kurtz 2013.04.03

    Voters self-identifying as 'independent' still need safe food, safe water, safe shelter and safe sex. Republicans don't want any of those things.

  11. DB 2013.04.03

    You get crazier everyday Larry.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.03

    Jessie, I don't forget those Independent voters. Neither do the Dems, who have opened their primary process to those Indies to help them pick a winning candidate (to no avail thus far). So Jessie, would those Indies go for a Paul-Wellstone-style Democrat who would offer them a clear alternative to the GOP as usual?

  13. Rorschach 2013.04.03

    What DB means, Larry, is that independents will have all of the safe food, safe water, safe shelter that the free and unregulated market will offer them. Forget about safe sex though, because Republicans will ban contraception or otherwise regulate it from the marketplace as soon as they are able to.

  14. Jessie Elder 2013.04.03

    Is there anyone in SD who might fit a Wellstone characterization? If there is, would the Dems actually support (via money and sweat) this person sufficiently to make a candidacy viable? I can't speak for other independents (that's why we're independent) but I would sit up and take notice if a reasonable candidate showed up.

  15. G-Man 2013.04.03

    He's entitled to his own opinion, but, I believe Howie Klein is over the top in calling Stephanie a "homophobic bigot." My response: really? When Klein prints these kind of attacks he loses credibility and brings himself to the level of some hard right-wingers in their approach to politics, like Bob Ellis.

  16. G-Man 2013.04.03

    It's this kind of vitriol from Mr. Klein that turns me off to both the hard left and hard right politicos. It's way over the top and crazy talk. Reasonable, mature, and well grounded people do not set out to demonize others because they disagree with them.

  17. mike 2013.04.03

    The left and the right will both need to suck this up.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.03

    Jessie, I worry all the Wellstone types go work for Senators and Reps from other states. Angie Buhl could bring some Wellstonian heat... any other possibilities?

    G, I don't give Klein's language my stamp of approval, but his vitriol shows in its rawest form the difficulty South Dakota Dems face in getting outside reinforcements, a difficulty I don't see typical SD Republicans having.

  19. Owen Reitzel 2013.04.04

    "But if we follow what Klein says we're no better than the far-right Republicans (Stace Nelson) that call moderate Republicans Democrats"

    I would like to make a correction to this post that I had posted earlier. Stace Nelson has not said that moderate Republicans are Democrats. This was poorly worded on my part and Stace brought this to my attention. I did not mean to put words into his mouth and I offer my apoligizies to Stace.

  20. Stace Nelson 2013.04.04

    Owen, I have huge respect and admiration for the passion you have for your ideas and beliefs. RINOs are not Democrats, they are political opportunists that are the real problem in American politics. You and I are good. Most important is that you know that is not what I think. I value our two party system and the honest debating of issues. Through that process issues can be vetted properly and hopefully the best solution is found. We may disagree on issues; however, please never think that I do not have respect for you, your beliefs, or your party. It is one of the main reasons why I don't go along to get along as I am NOT the Republican Representative of this district, but the Representative of this district. Your friendship and counsel is always important to me, never doubt that. God bless.

  21. G-Man 2013.04.04

    We need the blue dogs back in Congress! I'm a moderate Independent and these are my kind of people :).

  22. larry kurtz 2013.04.04

    Blue dog crap has no place in the Democratic Party: expect more from our leaders.

  23. grudznick 2013.04.04

    Mr. kurtz, Blue Dog Crap with crayon chips and all is the only possible future for your party in South Dakota. To get into Mr. Sibby's mind, all one has to do is part the beaded curtain. To get into your mind, young sir, one must squat more than just a little.

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.04

    I want to triangulate among G-Man, Larry, and Grudz. We can use some Blue Dogs if they bring genuine centrism, but that burden falls at least as much if not more on the Republican Party, which has itself far right and dragged us Dems down the slope with them. Larry, I won't ban the Blue Dogs from the party, but I'll make it clear they'd better be recognize that our positions on universal health care, Keystone XL, and gay marriage (among other things) aren't radical leftism for them to shun but positions justifiable in their centrist paradigm. And Grudz, you're peddling a GOP line. The GOP wants us to surrender to middledom so they can pull us even further right in compromise. A Wellstonian future for the SDDP is possible, if we find the right Wellstone willing to stand and fight and roll up the campaign donations necessary to fight... over and over again.

  25. larry kurtz 2013.04.04

    The only Wellstonian figure in SD politics today other than Sherry Bea Smith is Kevin Weiland: note that she has been silent.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.05

    Larry, can we ever get Sherry and Kevin to throw in?

  27. larry kurtz 2013.04.05

    When I asked her, Sherry Bea said she already has a job, a very good one, too: would love to see her in a local race first. Weiland has the resources and the energy to run a statewide race; but, running in a primary is highly unlikely.

    Ben knows all this stuff.

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.05

    Ah, but a primary would be such fun! Come on, Kevin! Don't let someone else scare you away from leading an important conversation.

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.05

    Then again, I wonder what would be more productive: throwing Kevin in against Stephanie to have the Blue Dog-Wellstone debate up front, or playing fantasy football and having Kevin, SHS, Brendan, etc. each fill separate slots on the November ballot?

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