- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

By winning the special election for South Dakota’s at-large congressional seat on Tuesday, Democrat Stephanie Herseth gave her party a two-for-two winning streak in Republican territory this year.

Democratic leaders said the victories are a repudiation of President Bush and the direction he is taking the country.

“There’s no question in my mind, and the mind of a lot of us, the South Dakota election was really an election about change,” said Rep. Robert T. Matsui, California Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “There’s no question the American public, after Kentucky and now the South Dakota race, would like to see change. They’re unhappy and dissatisfied with the status quo.”

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Ms. Herseth defeated Republican Larry Diedrich 51 percent to 49 percent in a state that the president carried by 22 percent in 2000 and in which Republicans hold a strong advantage in voter registration. She will serve out the term of former Rep. Bill Janklow, who resigned after being convicted of second-degree manslaughter for having killed a motorcyclist in an accident.

In February, Democrat Ben Chandler won 55 percent of the vote in capturing a Kentucky seat in the House formerly held by Republican Ernie Fletcher, who won that state’s governorship in November.

Even though both seats went from Republican to Democrat, Republican leaders said they don’t prove anything about the 2004 general elections.

“Despite whatever the national Democrats are trying to say, there are no national implications in South Dakota,” said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, Mr. Matsui’s counterpart at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

He said he was dealt two “tough hands,” given the Democratic candidates’ lead in name recognition and favorability ratings going in. In the case of South Dakota, Ms. Herseth had a 70 percent favorable rating and a 30 percentage point lead over Mr. Diedrich three months ago.

“They’re not going to have a Ben Chandler and a Stephanie Herseth,” Mr. Reynolds said. “I can think of no other competitive, open-race seat in the country where the Democrats will start the campaign with a candidate who had universal name ID and a 30-point lead before the campaign began.”

Mr. Diedrich will run against Ms. Herseth again in November’s general election, at the same time that South Dakota’s senior senator, Democratic leader Tom Daschle, faces Republican former Rep. John Thune. And Republicans said Mr. Daschle should be worried, given Mr. Diedrich’s strong showing and the fact that the Republican state now has three Democrats representing it at the federal level.

“If I were Tom Daschle, I’d be scared for my party in South Dakota,” Mr. Reynolds said.

Mr. Daschle, though, said South Dakota voters won’t be tied to party labels — something confirmed by polls taken before the special election.

But as for his own race, Mr. Daschle said he’s not taking anything for granted. “I’ve said many times only the paranoid survive in politics, and I’m sufficiently paranoid.”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, also played down the notion that Republicans have lost the organizational edge that had helped them win so many special elections.

“Far from it,” he said. “You are coming from 30 points behind with no name ID to within one percentage point, I think Mr. Diedrich ran a pretty good race.”

Mr. DeLay also said that thanks to a new round of redistricting in Texas and to Rep. Ralph M. Hall switching from Democrat to Republican earlier this year, Republicans are still in good shape to maintain their majority in the House.

Republicans control the House 228-206-1.

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