October 8th, 2010
08:02 AM ET
12 years ago

CNN 100: Toss up in South Dakota

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.

Filed under: 2010 • CNN 100 • South Dakota • Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Johnny

    Why is it okay for GOP members of Congress to have "Socialist" health benefits and then preach against it for the average American. A clear example of hypocrisy. They must think GOP supporters are dumber than a door nail which just might be true....

    October 8, 2010 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  2. Chessnutz of Liverpool NY

    What “We the People” need to do this November is give this congress permanent vacation. We need to have new representation given a chance at representing the people for a change.

    I do not care about what party you belong to! "We the People” got screwed again this time we need to make all of them pay with their jobs.
    Guess what Congress "You Are Fired!"
    This fall vote "No to incumbents"
    Fire All incumbents!
    Congress allowed the American people to lose their jobs, their life's savings, and their retirement and NOW we are in double dip recession. And then made the American people pay to bailout the ones who were responsible for the crime.
    All while supporting the special interests, lobbyists, Big business and themselves.
    You know what Congress, welcome to the ranks of the unemployed.

    October 8, 2010 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  3. No more dems

    Don't give that democrat a 4th term. Congress has been in the democrat's control for four years and nothing good has come of it. In fact, these last 2 years have been a complete joke. The legislative branch has allowed the executive branch of government to do whatever it wants. And right now, the Obama administration wants to force people to live a certain way.

    Vote anyone that voted for Obamacare OUT OF OFFICE.

    October 8, 2010 10:44 am at 10:44 am |