- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota’s history of electing Democrats to Congress and the state’s “independent streak” will ensure there are competitive congressional races in the 2016 elections, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Saturday.

South Dakota Democrats gathered in Sioux Falls for McGovern Day 2015, the party’s large annual gathering, where they heard from Wasserman Schultz. The party’s central committee also voted to formally join the fight to send two laws to the voters for their review in 2016, and hosted candidate training.

“It’s important for us to make it clear that Democrats are going to compete all over the country,” Wasserman Schultz told reporters before she headlined the event. “It’ll take a lot of hard work, like any election does, but thankfully South Dakota has a long history of electing progressive Democrats.”

South Dakota is considered a Republican-leaning state. The GOP holds all statewide offices and supermajorities in both state legislative chambers. U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and U.S. Sen. John Thune, both Republicans, will be up for re-election in 2016. They already have a sizeable fundraising advantage.

Wasserman Schultz said the state Democratic Party is well organized and said the DNC would help them build the infrastructure necessary to support a statewide race. Democratic Party Chairwoman Ann Tornberg has said the party hopes to run candidates for both seats.

So far, it’s unclear when a candidate to challenge Thune or Noem would come forward. Wasserman Schultz mentioned former Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who was ousted by Noem in 2010 and now works in the private sector. Herseth Sandlin hasn’t given any indication that she would run in 2016.

“We miss her in Washington,” Wasserman Schultz said.

The state party is also pushing back against a proposal that carves out a $7.50 youth minimum wage and fighting against a bundle of election law changes.

The two laws were passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature last session. Democrats argue the youth minimum wage is an affront to voters who overwhelmingly passed the $8.50 minimum wage in the 2014 election.

Republicans have said the campaign for the wage hike focused on adult workers, not on young workers. Rep. Karen Soli, D-Sioux Falls, said Democrats need to translate issue-based support among voters to the party’s candidates.

Residents voted 55 percent to 45 percent in November for the $8.50 minimum wage. But they also largely voted for Republican candidates at the same time, Soli said, and Democrats need to “close that gap.”

The Democrats also heaped scorn on Republicans on issues ranging from environmental regulations to economic policies.

“Our battle is a battle for the people of South Dakota, it’s a battle for humanity, and it’s just a plain battle for decency,” said party Vice Chairman Joe Lowe.

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