South Dakota Poll Roundup and Smart Politics Projections

Heading into the weekend, Smart Politics plays it close to the vest in deciding to present South Dakota in the second of its Upper Midwest election summaries for the key battles in the Upper Midwest. With incumbents expected by everyone to hold serve in that state, the real challenge lies ahead in some closely watched Minnesota and Wisconsin races…the roundup and predictions for which are coming soon…

SD Governor: The latest KELO-TV / Argus Leader poll has 1-term incumbent Republican governor Mike Rounds leading Democratic challenger Jack Billion by 22 points: 57-35. Billion has gained 7 points on Rounds since July, but not nearly enough to eke out a victory in a state that has elected a republican governor in the last seven elections, dating back to 1978. In fact, only four Democrats have ever been elected to the Governor’s office in the state since elections began in 1889. In 2002 Mike Rounds handily beat Democrat Jim Abbott by 15 points. Rounds’ widespread popularity (his approval ratings remain in the low 60s) in a generally pro-Republican state should give him a strong showing, despite indications that the abortion ban he signed will likely be rejected by South Dakota voters. Smart Politics Projection: Rounds, Republican hold.

SD U.S. House-At large: Two-term Blue Dog democratic incumbent Stephanie Herseth remains a very popular figure in South Dakota politics—with favorability ratings in the low 60s—and will prove to be too much for Republican challenger Bruce Whalen to handle. Herseth won South Dakota’s at-large seat to the U.S. House of Representatives in a June 2004 special election that was called to fill the seat vacated by Representative William Janklow (who resigned after being convicted of manslaughter for killing a motorcyclist with his automobile). Herseth edged Republican nominee Larry Diedrich in that election by just two points (approximately 3000 votes). The two candidates squared off again in November 2004, with Herseth winning by 7.5 points. Democrats won the first seven at-large races when the number of South Dakota’s representatives dropped from two to one in 1982. However, since 1960, Republicans have won 21 of 35 U.S. House elections in the state. But Herseth’s family has a long political history in the state – her grandfather was governor of South Dakota, her grandmother was Secretary of State, and her father served in the state legislature for twenty years and was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor in 1986. Herseth’s strong name recognition, her incumbency advantage, and her popularity will ensure this Blue Dog Democrat remains in the U.S. House. Smart Politics Projection: Herseth, Democratic hold.

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