Tuesday, September 30, 2008

South Dakota U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

South Dakota U.S. Senate

September 30, 2008
35 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Safe Democrat (change from Likely Democrat)

The last two Senate elections in South Dakota were perhaps the most closely watched in the nation, with tons of national money and interest pouring into the state. In 2002, Democrat Tim Johnson won his second term in the Senate over John Thune and two years later, Thune rebounded by knocking off Senate Democrat Leader Tom Daschle.

Most were looking for Johnson's 2008 reelection effort to be similarly competitive and many anticipated that the state's popular Republican Governor would challenge Johnson for the seat, and perhaps once again swing control of the U.S. Senate. Shortly after Democrats won control of the Senate by a one vote margin in 2006 though, Johnson suffered a serious stroke that left him hospitalized for months and one that continues to affect his speech and mobility. Once it appeared that Johnson would survive his illness and control of the Senate would not change through a vacancy, talk turned to whether or not he would be in position to seek another term, and if he did, who would challenge him.

Shortly after returning somewhat to his Senate duties, Johnson did announce plans to go forward with a reelection campaign, but by that point, Governor Mike Rounds and a few other prominent Republicans had decided to take a pass on the race, assuming that the seat would not be open. What was once expected to be a very close race due to the incumbent's competitive political history and the difficulties of a Democrat winning in a Republican leaning state now seriously dropped off the radar.

Johnson's Republican opponent is State Represenative Joel Dykstra, who won a competitive primary for the right to take on Johnson, but despite the many Republicans in South Dakota, the race is not expected to be close at all. While Johnson remains handicapped to some extent, most people in the state believe that he is capable of fulfilling his duties. People also admire the personal courage that Johnson has exhibited in recovering his health and wanting to return to work. So, while Johnson's condition have caused his campaign to rule out any debates, there is really little that Republicans can do, because it would be portrayed by Democrats as being "mean" or "unfair" to a sympathetic figure with a disability.

So, while the state may be deprived of a traditional election to see who could best represent it in the Senate, Johnson's enhanced popularity and the reluctance of the state's most popular Republican to challenge him, means that the GOP cannot really do too much to improve their circumstance in South Dakota this year.

Dykstra campaign link:


2008 U.S. Senate races predicted: 13 D, 16 R
Predicted Senate balance of power thus far: 52 D, 42 R


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