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The Family Choice: Herseth Sandlin for Governor

David Montgomery gets Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to tell him at last Saturday's McGovern Day that she is thinking seriously about running for U.S. Senate in 2014. That's news, because it's the first concrete expression of interest in a Senate run that we've heard directly from any potential Democratic candidate. She and I and the electorate all are trying to figure out if we should be excited at the prospect of her Senate run.

Denise Ross highlights the importance of the Zachary factor. SHS explains the calculus this way:

“I’m really loving my work at Raven Industries,” she said. “I’m loving my family life in Sioux Falls, and the more time I get to spend with family and friends in South Dakota — and how important that is for Zachary.”

But Herseth Sandlin said she “will always have a desire to serve” and is taking people’s encouragement to run for office again to heart.

“I’ve been having some serious conversations with trusted friends, close family, some of the folks I’m currently working with,” she said. “I know that regardless of what the decision is going to be, I’m going to disappoint some folks. So I’ve got to make the decision I think is right for my family and me at this time. I’ve been starting to have more of those conversations over the last couple of weeks and will continue to have them” [David Montgomery, "Herseth Sandlin Having 'Serious Conversations' about Senate Run," Political Smokeout, 2013.04.22].

Time with family and friends in South Dakota... desire to serve... hmmm.... It seems to me Herseth Sandlin could have both by running not for Senate but for governor. Instead of doing the crazy weekly flight schedule to and from Washington, she could walk home every night from the office. She could interact daily with South Dakota family and friends—all 834,000 of us!—in the normal course of her duties. Living and working in Pierre gives Herseth Sandlin more of what the quote above says she wants than trying to hold together professional life in Washington and personal life in South Dakota.

Along with trying to figure out what Stephanie wants, we need to figure out what Democrats want. Jonathan Ellis says the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in D.C. wants Herseth Sandlin to run. That should excite me, since that signals the kind of support from national Democrats that I've been worried Herseth Sandlin's rightward tacking would keep her from getting. But then that also smells like a big out-state machine meddling in South Dakota Democrats' selection process and denying us the opportunity for a vigorous primary, the way national Democrats did in 2010 when they pressured Kevin Weiland not to challenge SHS in a House primary.

Oh yeah, Kevin Weiland. Following the news that the DSCC prefers Herseth Sandlin, Weiland jumped out with fellow known progressive Jim Abourezk and endorsed Brendan Johnson for the Senate. Johnson has yet to declare his principles, but endorsements from folks like Weiland and Abourezk strengthen the tea-leaf case that Johnson is a stronger progressive candidate than Herseth Sandlin. (Either that, or he just has a powerful out-state DC machine of his own doing a better job of lining up local endorsements.)

I will agree with the analysis of the DSCC and many of my own commenters that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has a better résumé than Brendan Johnson for pretty much any office on the 2014 ballot other than attorney general. As a known quantity, Herseth Sandlin is a safer bet. That's why she polls better than Johnson.

But unleash Johnson from the political neutrality of his U.S. attorney's position, and he'll make up ground quickly. With hardly a word of his own, he already has people excited (or nervous, as we've seen from the Republican spin machine's obsession with his prospects and early negative campaign against the non-candidate). I've seen the gleam in his eye. Trust me: if Johnson declares, after his first campaign tour of the state, he won't look like a risky rookie to anyone. The DSCC needs to hold its horses and let Johnson prove himself before it writes our South Dakota ticket for us.

We Democrats want to win. In Herseth Sandlin and Johnson, we have two candidates who can win. We should put them both on the ballot so they can run side by side in fall 2014.

And if we take Stephanie's words at face value, we should encourage her to pursue her service and family goals by running for Governor. Unleash your inner executive, Stephanie. Be the boss. Be the big Dem who wages the strongest challenge since your dad's run in 1986 to the monolithic and destructive GOP control of South Dakota's executive branch. Let Brendan inspire Dems from all corners with his fight for progressivism in Washington, while you bring your independent-appealing practical centrism to Pierre.

Johnson for Senate, Herseth Sandlin for Governor. That's the ticket!

(And Kevin: think House!)


  1. Dana P. 2013.04.24

    more blue dots and more representation for women..... hmmm, I like it!

  2. Richard Schriever 2013.04.24

    You might be on to something here CH. (wink, nod)

  3. Nick Nemec 2013.04.24

    I think the entire South Dakota blogosphere is overestimating the actions of the DSCC.

  4. Rorschach 2013.04.24

    I think Stephanie would be a strong governor candidate, and she can beat Daugaard. And I'm not suggesting that to clear the deck for Brendan. I think his best race as a first-time candidate would be for the House. Nancy Turbak Berry would be my choice to run for senate, but I don't expect that to happen. If Stephanie runs for senate, maybe someone with clout can talk Nancy into running for governor.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.24

    Good link, Larry! The DGA needs to send SHS an e-mail.

    Nick, we may be overestimating DSCC's influence. Would you say that the rumors that Brendan Johnson backed off announcing based on DSCC's preference for SHS is pure poppycock?

  6. Kal Lis 2013.04.24

    I have ranted someplace on the interwebs that Herseth Sandlin should run for governor. She would be the first woman governor in SD history. The state has had two women appointed to the Senate.

    I don't know if she can beat Daugaard. It would be a tough race. If she doesn't run next year, and she plays her cards right during the next few years, she would be the favorite when the seat opens in 2018.

    It seems that I'm a minority of one, but I'd suggest the Dem's priorities in 2014 should be taking out Noem and building up numbers in the state legislature.

    Republicans seem to be doing a far better job of getting their candidates to focus on Pierre first and DC second. In the grand scheme of things, the governor and legislature have a bigger impact than the 2 senators out of a 100 and 1 representative out of 435.

  7. Stan Gibilisco 2013.04.24

    I'll bet she's considering a run for governor. Just ain't talkin' about it yet.

  8. Nick Nemec 2013.04.24

    Cory, I'd say any claims that the DSCC told Johnson to back off is pure speculation by people trying to stir the pot.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.24

    Nick, I find that interpretation much more appealing. Until someone produces evidence on that claim, I'll stick with your story.

    Stan, maybe you're onto something. (Permit me my own pure speculation.) Maybe Stephanie and Brendan are in cahoots. Maybe they see what fun the GOP spin machine is having blowing its gaskets over a possible Dem Senate primary. Maybe they are perfectly comfortable letting the spinsters blow their gaskets over that prospect. Maybe Stephanie already has the memos from the DGA and from Kal Lis, but she just doesn't want to draw fire from the in-state Daugaard machine any sooner than necessary.

  10. Les 2013.04.24

    Herseth is hoping Noem will tear up Rounds and she would walk into the Senate. A tough GOP primary could give the voters a reason to say, they are both right neither should hold that seat. I would then bet on Stephanie.
    Whatever is done in the GOP, it better be done right. There are a ton of folks not happy with Kristi. This could be a good opportunity to give away two seats instead of taking all three.
    Could someone explain why they think SHS would want a job as our governor, with lower pay, status and much less prospect of moving back to DC?

  11. larry kurtz 2013.04.24

    because she loves the stupid state?

  12. joeboo 2013.04.24

    She is not running for Governor, the #1 reason she didn't run for Governor in 10' was because she wanted to be a Senator and felt that being a Congresswomen was a better path for it. Trust me there, I know people who were in the room when she was asked to run for Governor and why she said no.

    As for the DSCC, the DSCC is not against Brendan Johnson , but would much rather have the safer bet (both polling, and name recognition). They also don't want a primary, I'm sure what they are saying is let SHS make her decision and then make his.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.24

    You were in that room? Dang, Joe! I need to hang out with you! Was the Senate path why she said no to gov in that room? And is it possible her attitude could have changed since 2010... or that if it hasn't, we could change that attitude with some public clamor?

  14. Smitty 2013.04.25

    Screw Johnson for senate...I don't think sd would replace Tim with his son for the same senate seat. Plus I think sd is used to experienced legislators for those positions.

    I would like him to take the draft Brendan movement and announce a run for the house and take on noem. That race is way more winnable, coupled with SHS RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR would be the best strategy for sd dems.

    While daugaurd might not be winnable, when he termed out the list of replacements wouldn't have the same name recognition.

  15. G-Man 2013.04.26

    No, Steph for US Senate. She has worked her way to this position in Congress by serving in the House. She would best use her connections to serve South Dakota in the Senate.

  16. G-Man 2013.04.26

    Brenden Johnson, although a great person I have no doubt, lacks the experience Stephanie brings to Congress. Sorry, my money is on Steph for the US Senate.

  17. G-Man 2013.04.26

    I still maintain my opinion, going back to 2008, that the plan was Steph was to replace Tim Johnson all along.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.27

    No "sorry" necessary: we all want the best person for the job. G, was that 2008 succession plan a shared plan by both Team Stephanie and Team Tim? Why would they have changed that plan when Tim was weakened as a candidate and Senator by his medical emergency?

  19. G-Man 2013.04.27

    Cory, these are excellent questions and my "opinions" could be wrong. I will attempt to answer your questions. I could be totally off on this, but, I "got the feeling" that Senator Johnson was not going to tempt fate and run for a fourth term after Tom Daschle became the third senator in 2004 to loose his bid for a 4th term (following in the steps of George McGovern and Larry Pressler). After Tim's brain hemorage, my hunch grew stronger that Stephanie was being primed to eventually replace him. As for Team Stephanie and Team Tim, I always thought they worked well together. Maybe I was wrong on that. I know I was naive in thinking John Thune and Stephanie Herseth were helping each other after the 2010 elections.

  20. G-Man 2013.04.27

    Cory, I know you are not into Beaver State Politics, but, just to let you know that I read they are priming our Senator Ron Wyden (D), Oregon, to replace Senator Max Baucus (D), Montana to chair the powerful Finance Committee should the Democrats retain the control of the Senate in 2014.

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