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.
“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!)