The collapse of South Dakota Democrats

posted at 10:10 am on April 17, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Less than ten years ago, a Democrat from South Dakota ran the US Senate.  Just six years ago, Tom Daschle still led Senate Democrats as minority leader.  Now, in 2010, South Dakota Democrats won’t even present a candidate to run against the man who unseated Daschle in one of the strangest and most total collapses in political history.  My friend Dr. Eric Ostermeier at Smart Politics tries to make sense of the situation:

While South Dakota has long been a Republican stronghold in state politics and presidential elections, the Democratic Party has performed quite competitively in the Mount Rushmore State in Congressional races for several decades.

However, in what can only be described as an embarrassment for Democrats, the Party’s failure to field a candidate in the U.S. Senate contest against 1-term GOP incumbent John Thune marks the first time in 34 contests since popular vote U.S. Senate elections were introduced in 1914 that a Democratic candidate has failed to appear on the ballot in South Dakota. …

Smart Politics analyzed more than 1,050 general election U.S. Senate races conducted since the end of World War II, and found there to have been 58 contests in which either the Democratic Party or Republican Party failed to field a candidate. (The 2010 South Dakota Senate race makes 59).

Across these 58 elections, there has never been a greater plunge into oblivion in the race for a U.S. Senate seat from either party than what has happened in South Dakota in 2010 – from the 49.4 percent of the vote tallied by 2004 Democratic nominee Tom Daschle, to being completely off the ballot six years later.

The previous record was held by Virginia Democrats in 2002 when they failed to field a challenger against Republican John Warner, after notching 47.4 percent of the vote with Democrat (and future Senator) Mark Warner six years prior in 1996.

In the case of Virginia, though, there was at least the excuse of facing off against a long-time uncumbent.  John Warner had held the seat since 1979, eventually serving five terms.  He had tremendous popularity and Republicans had the momentum in that election, which means that Democrats in Virginia may have decided to keep their powder dry for better days.

I’d say this is more analogous to Illinois in 2004, although perhaps more in public perception than in reality.  Illinois Republicans haven’t had much strength in decades, but Jack Ryan had a real shot at winning the seat that year — at least until his divorce papers got exposed and the family-values argument disappeared.  Republicans did present a challenger in that election, but only by carpetbagging Alan Keyes into the state to run against some obscure state legislator.  Say, whatever happened to that guy, anyway?

But Thune is a first-term Senator who barely lost against Tim Johnson in 2002 and edged Daschle in 2004.  What happened?  Republicans hold most of the seats in the state legislature, but Democrats compete better for Congressional races.  South Dakota Democrats may have decided, like Virginia did in 2002, that the expense of putting a sacrificial lamb on the ballot simply isn’t worth it.  Be sure to read all of Eric’s historical analysis.


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Well was the 1990s collapse of the GOP in California. It use to be a state that went for the GOP narrowly.

William Amos on April 17, 2010 at 10:14 AM

Whatever their reason, I’m glad they’re not fielding a candidate. One less dem to worry about.

More good news, like it or not: Obama is back “up” to -17 on Rasmussen.

IrishEi on April 17, 2010 at 10:18 AM

I still do not understand and never will why politcal parties allow any election to go unchallenged. every house race and every senate race should have at least 2 people running

unseen on April 17, 2010 at 10:19 AM

It’s like a state has been exorcized.

Akzed on April 17, 2010 at 10:24 AM

Maybe if the Democrats out there had been pushing a little harder for things like returning the Black Hills to the Lakota nation, maybe they wouldn’t be in the dire straits they are in right now.

pilamaye on April 17, 2010 at 10:26 AM

I still do not understand and never will why politcal parties allow any election to go unchallenged. every house race and every senate race should have at least 2 people running

Two problems. One is money the other is lack of good candidates.

I have seen both arise in elections. Politics is something that someone goes into for Job Security at the start. But once you make it you do have it.

For instance I lack the money to run for office. That would exclude me from running (Not that Im that interested rather work FOR a campaign then have one hoisted on me)

The other is that there really is no learning process for how to run for office. You can run for lower office but that doesnt mean you learn how to be a good campaigner. There really is a lack of depth in talent for political office.

William Amos on April 17, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Say, whatever happened to that guy, anyway?

Didn’t he win American Idol in 2008?

Oh no, wait . . . . that was the presidency.

AZCoyote on April 17, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Incredible. That’s not just Daschle’s seat; it was once occupied by George McGovern!

Athanasius on April 17, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Or how about improving living conditions in places such as the Pine Ridge and Rose Indian Reservations? Ever think of doing long overdue things like that?

pilamaye on April 17, 2010 at 10:28 AM

They didn’t mind sending Dems to Congress (as long as they’re socially conservative) because SD gets more in federal aid than it sends to DC in taxes.

As far as state government goes, though, the GOP has the edge with keeping taxes low. Or, in the case of a state income tax, non-existent.

The only young Dems on the bench are Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the Rep, who could not beat Thune and knows it, and Tim Johnson’s son, Brooks, who is the new US Attorney (and apparently Dad’s heir, since Tim won’t run again.)

Wethal on April 17, 2010 at 10:32 AM

I think Thune is a great potential POTUS some day, VEEP for Romney maybe?

ginaswo on April 17, 2010 at 10:36 AM

Look at recent history, every democrat party leader that has reached a highly visible position representing the democrat party is gone in the next election cycle, except for the Clintons.

What does that say about the democrat party, party leadership, and voters?

Look at some of the roll call votes on some of the controversial issues from just a few years ago. Forty percent who voted on those issues are no longer in government.

Skandia Recluse on April 17, 2010 at 10:39 AM

Or how about improving living conditions in places such as the Pine Ridge and Rose Indian Reservations? Ever think of doing long overdue things like that?

pilamaye on April 17, 2010 at 10:28 AM

Reservations are federal land, and administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, with free health care from the US Public Health Service.

I have relatives in SD, who live near a reservation. About twenty years ago, the feds decided to improve housing and built some new houses, pretty much like your basic suburban tract house. Decent housing with basic modern conveniences. Some of the Indians ripped out the plumbing for the copper, and sold everything they could as far as fittings. Then they complained about how substandard their housing was.

There isn’t any government program that hasn’t been tried. The reservations are an example of “failed socialism.”

Now the reservations have their own money because of the casinos. Before states legaiized gambling the reservations, being federal land, were exempt, so they started casinos. Watch and see what they do with their own money before the government spends any more.

Wethal on April 17, 2010 at 10:40 AM

And Romney is the Candidate since when?

Its still 2010, let’s not rush into anything

JP1986UM on April 17, 2010 at 10:42 AM

The collapse of South Dakota Democrats–by Ed Morrissey

I want to read the story of the collapse of California Democrats! (preferably not when I’m in my 80′s)

Rovin on April 17, 2010 at 10:43 AM

Thune, it should be noted, very likely would’ve won against Johnson in “02 had he chosen to pursue an election contest over the election fraud on the indian reservations.

In retrospect, he was smart to hold his ammo for Daschle, for which we will be forever in his debt.

Now, with this good news, Thune will be free to campaign for the R candidates in other senate races, a real plus.

TXUS on April 17, 2010 at 10:43 AM

Wethal on April 17, 2010 at 10:32 AM

You are right. Who would the Democrats have run? That party hasn’t been actively developing leaders in South Dakota for some time. Daschle’s loss to Thune seems to have caught South Dakota Democrats way off guard. It’s as if Democrats there thought they could ride Daschle and Tim Johnson forever.

Thune has been a successful and charismatic freshman in Washington and would destroy any Democrat advanced by South Dakota for the race.

Edouard on April 17, 2010 at 10:44 AM

“Say, whatever happened to that guy, anyway?”

Okay, I admit, it was my fault for contributing to his campaign. I’m a pox on those I support but that was the only time it sent them off the deep end.

Dusty on April 17, 2010 at 10:45 AM

“The previous record was held by Virginia Democrats in 2002 when they failed to field a challenger against Republican John Warner, after notching 47.4 percent of the vote with Democrat (and future Senator) Mark Warner six years prior in 1996.”

But, as it turned out, John Warner was a good friend to the Dems because he became a McCain acolyte joining the Gang of 14, co-sponsoring MGW legislation and signing on to McCain-Feingold too, if I recall correctly. What did I forget here? Help me out fellow conservatives.

JimP on April 17, 2010 at 10:45 AM

The excuse SD Dems give to the public is that by not having to field a candidate for US Senate (and others: they’re not challenging 3 state constitutional offices, including Attorney General) is that they can now focus their resources on the Governor’s race. It says quite a bit about the state of the SD Democratic Party that they’re running a pro-choice state Senator (Scott Heidepriem) that left the state GOP in the ’90s in a snit over the abortion issue. They must think that SD Republicans don’t have long memories about that.

Of course, we won’t get into the fact that Herseth-Sandlin has 3 GOP challengers, all of whom are polling reasonably well against her.

BradSchwartze on April 17, 2010 at 10:45 AM

I want to read the story of the collapse of California Democrats! (preferably not when I’m in my 80’s)

Rovin on April 17, 2010 at 10:43 AM

Its starting

William Amos on April 17, 2010 at 10:47 AM

Heh, finally.

abobo on April 17, 2010 at 10:53 AM

It says quite a bit about the state of the SD Democratic Party that they’re running a pro-choice state Senator (Scott Heidepriem) that left the state GOP in the ’90s in a snit over the abortion issue. They must think that SD Republicans don’t have long memories about that.

BradSchwartze on April 17, 2010 at 10:45 AM

Wow. One of my SD relatives once told me the surest way to kill your political career in SD was to come out for a state income tax or for abortion.

Wethal on April 17, 2010 at 10:56 AM

Daschle’s loss to Thune seems to have caught South Dakota Democrats way off guard.Edouard on April 17, 2010 at 10:44 AM

I think that as c-span began to peak, so was Daschle’s face and his rhetorical bashing of conservative policies. The man was a habitual whiner at every appearence. Thune’s timing was perfect, but many were also just sick of Tommy. Between him and little Dicky Gephardt, all they could do (for a period), was cry about Gingrich and the 94 wave crashing down on their “we just want to help the poor and downtrodden” campaign that working folks were sick of hearing.

I am so looking forward to “that wave” to come crashing down on these liberal phonies again in November.

Rovin on April 17, 2010 at 10:59 AM

William Amos on April 17, 2010 at 10:47 AM

Thanks for the link WA! You made my day.

Money quote: “All politicians have a shelf life.”

Rovin on April 17, 2010 at 11:04 AM

What’s the matter with South Dakota? Don’t they know that Dems and their redistributive social programs are good for that backwater bunch of poor hicks? Man they are shortsighted. Geez.

/s

johnmackeygreene on April 17, 2010 at 11:04 AM

Daschle was there for so long maybe the party just didn’t develop their bench with school board members, city councilors, etc.

And yeah, what’s a new Dem face going to run on this year? Obamacare and “you’re they’re all racists”?

PattyJ on April 17, 2010 at 11:09 AM

I am sure that they are working to try to get the governorship back from the republicans. It’s a small state with little money and I don’t think the national party is much help now that they lost Dashle and there is no one in power in SD. The fact that Johnson was re-elected even though he can barely function since his stroke shows that the Dems can still crank up the machine if they want to do so. The odds were going to be very long against the popular Thune.

Herseth-Sandlin is considered to be pretty popular as well but the Democrats are really taking a hit due to the unpopularity of the current congress. Otherwise, I think she would have been a shoe-in. It is very telling that she voted against Obamacare. In fact she sent me a long response to my e-mail asking her to vote against it in which she stated that she was against cap and trade too. I thought it was odd at the time. Usually you get a short little “thanks for contacting me I am voting my conscience blah blah…” This was definitely an election year statement of policy position paper in e-mail form.

Lily on April 17, 2010 at 11:16 AM

From South Dakota to the rest of the nation.

jukin on April 17, 2010 at 11:28 AM

This is off subject and may have been discussed previously but what the heck is Steele giving money that is donated to the rnc,to Sharpton? Redstate has the info. It is no wonder people have no faith in the rnc!!

ohiobabe on April 17, 2010 at 11:32 AM

Lily on April 17, 2010 at 11:16 AM

Why don’t you send her an email asking her to vote in the next congress against Pelosi or any liberal democrat for speaker? I would love to see her response.

chris999 on April 17, 2010 at 11:42 AM

I don’t understand states that would never vote Dems for president voting for them to Congress. Granted Repubs benefit sometimes from similar things the opposite direction, but Dems suck worse.

gsherin on April 17, 2010 at 12:03 PM

Incredible. That’s not just Daschle’s seat; it was once occupied by George McGovern!

Athanasius on April 17, 2010 at 10:27 AM

It’s the People’s seat…

Khun Joe on April 17, 2010 at 12:06 PM

gsherin on April 17, 2010 at 12:03 PM

$$$. SD is a big recipient of ag subsidies. Democrats are usually better at bringing home the bacon. South Dakotans aren’t stupid – they elect Republicans statewide to keep their state taxes low. Through ag subsidies they get the rest of the country to pay their farmers.

chris999 on April 17, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Its starting

William Amos on April 17, 2010 at 10:47 AM

You betcha! There will be blood in NO-vember.

platypus on April 17, 2010 at 12:17 PM

And I thought the Democrats had a bit of money to throw around. This means either (a) they don’t have that much money to campaign with, after all, or (b) they’re facing such tremendous losses that they can’t spare a few dollars for any but the purplest districts.

joe_doufu on April 17, 2010 at 12:25 PM

I didn’t have very much money back in 2002 and 2004 but I sent $250 up to Thune’s campaign each year. I was so disappointed when he barely lost the first time but was gleeful when he unseated Daschle. That was such a blessing.

Herseth-Sandlin is considered to be pretty popular as well but the Democrats are really taking a hit due to the unpopularity of the current congress. Otherwise, I think she would have been a shoe-in. It is very telling that she voted against Obamacare. In fact she sent me a long response to my e-mail asking her to vote against it in which she stated that she was against cap and trade too. I thought it was odd at the time. Usually you get a short little “thanks for contacting me I am voting my conscience blah blah…” This was definitely an election year statement of policy position paper in e-mail form.

Lily on April 17, 2010 at 11:16 AM

I take it that this is the Congressional rep? In today’s political climate in DC, which is so toxic and “scorched earth”, even the “good” Democrats have to be tossed overboard because they have to vote FOR these far lefty socialists to run the Congress. We just can’t have that party in power anymore and keep America free.

karenhasfreedom on April 17, 2010 at 12:29 PM

More good news, like it or not: Obama is back “up” to -17 on Rasmussen.

IrishEi on April 17, 2010 at 10:18 AM

It’s because this was the week for Tax returns, and people everywhere are so grateful to him.

UltimateBob on April 17, 2010 at 12:46 PM

I want to read the story of the collapse of California Democrats!

Rovin on April 17, 2010 at 10:43 AM

And Michigan, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, etc etc etc.

UltimateBob on April 17, 2010 at 12:48 PM

The lefty dems in Michigan have too many sheeples here that are still in their liberal, “gimme” stupors. The only reason the governorship might turn R this time is they Dems don’t have a strong candidate, and the Rs have several good candidates in the primary.

karenhasfreedom on April 17, 2010 at 12:56 PM

Jack Ryan had a real shot at winning the seat that year — at least until his divorce papers got exposed

And whom exactly was it that exposed those supposedly sealed papers? hmmmmmm?

bikermailman on April 17, 2010 at 1:03 PM

chris999 on April 17, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Bingo!

It’s all about agriculture subsidies here in SD. The ethanol boondoggle is a HUGE moneymaker for SD farmers. The ones who actually want to farm have switched to ethanol crops in a big way. That is where the money is. The ones who don’t want to farm have their land in the CRP program and get paid for leaving it idle.

Herseth-Sandlin grew up on a farm and her family have been prominent SD democrats for generations. There was talk about her running for governor but I haven’t heard anything lately. Her primary challenger dropped out right after she voted no on Obamacare and word on the street was that Hoyer himself called the guy up to strong-arm him into quitting. So I am guessing that she will try to stay in as our lone representative.

chris999 on April 17, 2010 at 11:42 AM

Good idea, if she gets in I will have to do that. But she votes with her party over 90% of the time, so I am guessing I would be wasting my time. If she wouldn’t have had a doctor running against her in her primary, she would have been an Obamacare vote no matter what it would do to rural hospitals.

Lily on April 17, 2010 at 1:15 PM

Not a single Democrat in South Dakota thought it would be a worthy adventure to challenge the Republicans for the seat?

Either there are no more Democrats in South Dakota, or the ones that are there know the meaning of the word “futility”, given what their party has just done to the USA.

unclesmrgol on April 17, 2010 at 1:19 PM

I think this is too bad. Think of the millions that would have been wasted by the democrats. Now that money will be applied in other races.

Mojave Mark on April 17, 2010 at 1:54 PM

I think Thune is a great potential POTUS some day, VEEP for Romney maybe?

ginaswo on April 17, 2010 at 10:36 AM

LOL I really admire your sticktoittiveness with your candidate especailly in light of his recent implosion…good for you :)

Is it just me or does anyone else ever forget the Dakotas exist?

CCRWM on April 17, 2010 at 2:30 PM

Unfortunately, the moderate Dems, whom I support, will not fare well in this obviously partisan era.

AnninCA on April 17, 2010 at 2:32 PM

Way to go South Dakota!

Mirimichi on April 17, 2010 at 2:41 PM

Great by me, saves money for other races that will be strongly contested.

bluemarlin on April 17, 2010 at 2:50 PM

I didn’t have very much money back in 2002 and 2004 but I sent $250 up to Thune’s campaign each year. I was so disappointed when he barely lost the first time but was gleeful when he unseated Daschle. That was such a blessing.

karenhasfreedom on April 17, 2010 at 12:29 PM

First time against Johnson there was alleged Dem vote fraud on the reservations. When Thune ran again against Daschle, the GOP had poll watchers out. Daschle tried to get the poll watchers out by going to federal court and saying the watchers were intimidating the voters.

His evidence, as I recall, consisted of anecdotes like the man who told the election officials at one polling place on a reservation that he was registered to vote, and the official “rolled his eyes.” (Oooooh, aggressive eye-rolling). Daschle lost at the hearing and the poll-watchers stayed.

Wethal on April 17, 2010 at 2:53 PM

Unfortunately, the moderate Dems, whom I support, will not fare well in this obviously partisan era.

AnninCA on April 17, 2010 at 2:32 PM

There are no moderate Dems left in National office. These moderates you speak of are the regular people and many of them have moved over to join with the Tea Party sentiment. So actually, if you really are a moderate , you should do ok this cycle. I am wasting my energy on this though, I know.

bluemarlin on April 17, 2010 at 2:54 PM

All that really counts is that Democrats suck and should completely cease to exist as a political party in the United States.

South Dakota is just the beginning.

I have a dream and it will be fulfilled when the Democrat Party is tossed upon the ash heap of history.

NoDonkey on April 17, 2010 at 3:24 PM

There are no moderate Dems left in National office. These moderates you speak of are the regular people and many of them have moved over to join with the Tea Party sentiment. So actually, if you really are a moderate , you should do ok this cycle. I am wasting my energy on this though, I know.

bluemarlin on April 17, 2010 at 2:54 PM

I have attended 2 Teaparties as a moderate Dem and now as an Independent.

I definitely don’t agree with every single sentiment/principle/conservative talking point.

However, I have regretfully given up my moderate Dems.

It’s progressives versus conservatives. I choose conservatives, with A LOT of caveats, people.

AnninCA on April 17, 2010 at 3:25 PM

All that really counts is that Democrats suck and should completely cease to exist as a political party in the United States.

South Dakota is just the beginning.

I have a dream and it will be fulfilled when the Democrat Party is tossed upon the ash heap of history.

NoDonkey on April 17, 2010 at 3:24 PM

Well, as a moderate, I think that attitude is the epitome of what I do not like about politics today.

It’s win/lose thinking, and it’s not about real solutions.

AnninCA on April 17, 2010 at 3:27 PM

Unfortunately, the moderate Dems, whom I support, will not fare well in this obviously partisan era.

AnninCA on April 17, 2010 at 2:32 PM


Moderate Dems = Dodo birds

The last one died during the ObamaCare vote…

Khun Joe on April 17, 2010 at 3:40 PM

All that really counts is that Democrats suck and should completely cease to exist as a political party in the United States.

South Dakota is just the beginning.

I have a dream and it will be fulfilled when the Democrat Party is tossed upon the ash heap of history.

NoDonkey on April 17, 2010 at 3:24 PM

“Reverend!”
/s/ Gabby Johnson
Blazing Saddles

Khun Joe on April 17, 2010 at 3:42 PM

“Well was the 1990s collapse of the GOP in California. It use to be a state that went for the GOP narrowly.”

That, I believe, was economic. California used to be a huge bastion of defense companies. McDonnell-Douglass, Lockheed, Northrop were huge employers in Southern California. There also used to be a Navy yard in San Francisco and companies such as FMC in San Jose that made things like Bradley fighting vehicles.

The one automotive plant in California is closing, there is practically no defense industry left like there was, what the death of the defense (and defense electronics and aviation) industries didn’t accomplish in the 1990′s, the dot-com bust blew out around 2000.

California is little more these days than the very rich, their gardeners and housekeepers, and Google employees.

Small business here is getting hammered by ridiculous minimum wage requirements, regulations, etc. You just can’t do business in California anymore and people are fleeing. You have pretty much the guilty white urban trust fund babies and the people who serve them at Starbucks.

The Democrats have killed California.

crosspatch on April 17, 2010 at 6:44 PM

The Democrats have killed California. America.

crosspatch on April 17, 2010 at 6:44 PM

angryed on April 17, 2010 at 7:54 PM

I have attended 2 Teaparties as a moderate Dem and now as an Independent.

I definitely don’t agree with every single sentiment/principle/conservative talking point.

However, I have regretfully given up my moderate Dems.

It’s progressives versus conservatives. I choose conservatives, with A LOT of caveats, people.

AnninCA on April 17, 2010 at 3:25

Wow! Can I assume Hot Air has had an effect on you?

I also choose conservatives, with caveats. maybe not as many caveats as you. But if AnninCA can give up on moderate Dems, anyone can. (Except maybe my aunt who screamed at me when I said something negative about Obamacare.)

YehuditTX on April 17, 2010 at 9:54 PM

In N.Dak last report was 7 of the 10 state Congressman offices up this fall—-dont have a dem’cat on the ballot…

Tracy Potter running against Gov Hoeven for Dorgans Senate
seat has enough baggage to be hardly counted as a candidate.

sbark on April 17, 2010 at 10:19 PM