Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:
South Dakota At-Large – Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) is seeking a 4th full term
Primary: June 8, 2010
Location: All of South Dakota
Days until the election: 25
Democrat Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has been touting her independent streak, but even her votes against some of her party's major legislative efforts might not be enough to fend off her Republican challenger this November.
Herseth Sandlin has held South Dakota's lone congressional seat since winning a special election in 2004. She won reelection in 2006 and 2008 with relative ease, but in this anti-incumbent year, faces a strong challenge from state Rep. Kristi Noem. Once considered a safe bid for the moderate Democrat, the race is now considered a "toss up" by prominent political handicappers.
And in a rural state that has chosen a Democrat for president only four times in its history, this may be the year that South Dakota returns to its traditionally red roots despite Herseth Sandlin's relatively conservative positions.
The Democrat voted against the financial and auto industry bailouts, the health care reform bill, and the cap-and-trade energy bill, and supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The National Rifle Association last week announced its endorsement of Herseth Sandlin, saying that her consistent pro-gun voting record earned her an "A" rating. She also holds a leadership position in the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition.
But Herseth Sandlin's overall voting record – she voted with the majority of her party 91.5 percent of the time – and ties to Washington – her husband is a registered lobbyist – are both factors that could prove lethal in this anti-Washington political environment.
Herseth Sandlin's opponent has embraced the sour national mood, railing the incumbent for voting to elect Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker. Noem has also sought to position herself as the true conservative in the race, touting her anti-abortion rights, pro-Second Amendment, anti-big government agenda. She has also vowed to work to repeal the health care law if elected.
Noem's message seems to be resonating with South Dakotans, as recent polls show her with a slight lead over Herseth Sandlin. The vulnerable congresswoman is also one of only 48 Democrats who represent districts won by Republican Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, and national Republicans now view Noem as one of the party's best chances to pick up a seat. The National Republican Congressional Committee has elevated Noem to the top rank in their Young Guns program.
Three months ago, Herseth Sandlin reported having $707,000 in cash on hand to Noem's $292,000. But that better than 2-to-1 cash advantage was not enough to keep this race from becoming one of the most competitive in the nation. Despite the voting record she has carefully cultivated, Herseth Sandlin faces her toughest re-election battle yet.