The indispensible South Dakota Politics reports on Larry Sabato’s opinion of the South Dakota political landscape. Political scientists will know the name Larry Sabato as being the foremost scholar of American elections and one of the most interesting and quoted political scientists working today. (Basically, he’s as close to a superstar in the political science world as there is.)
His take on the SD political landscape in 2004?
Thanks for this. Just yesterday, I talked to several key SD reporters and activists. They were unanimous in believing that Herseth would win. They may be unanimously wrong, but I’ll stick with the home folks! I also say that if Herseth wins, it’s actually bad news for Daschle. South Dakotans don’t want to be represented by three Democrats in DC. One is going to have to go—either Herseth in November or Daschle. That’s my guess, anyway.
I think Sabato is exactly right. South Dakota is a Republican state. The only reason that Daschle is in the Senate is because Bill Janklow lost the primary in 1986 and engaged in a campaign of personal destruction against incumbant Senator Jim Abnor (who was himself a weak candidate) University of South Dakota political scientist William Farber argued that the South Dakota Republicans were on the “verge of destroying themselves” over the issue.
Since then Daschle has had three things on his side, money, clout, and a supposed “moderate” image in the state of South Dakota.
Now after spending millions of dollars in campaign ads touting his moderate image, Daschle is only scarcely ahead of popular former Congressman John Thune who has delayed advertising to help Larry Diedrich get his message out. It’s not only a case of one GOP candidate helping another, it means that Thune’s war chest can grow while Daschle spends early.
My guess is that Herseth walks away with the election – but Daschle is a goner in 2004. Daschle tries to play as a moderate in South Dakota, but years of broken promises (such as the Lewis and Clark water project that remains largely in limbo) and his diminishing clout reduce his advantages in the race. All Thune has to do is play Daschle’s constant stream of rabid partisanship and point out that even if re-elected the chances of him remaining Minority Leader are slim to none, and Daschle will be severely weakened. It will still be a close race, but Sabato is right – South Dakotans will elect a moderate Democrat like Stephanie Herseth, but they’re tiring of Daschle’s radical liberalism and inability to work with the Republican Congress and the President to get things done for South Dakota.