South Dakota, one of the most reliably Republican states in the Midwest, will be an interesting state to watch in 2008. First, the state will have a high-profile Senate race, whether or not the state’s senior Senator, Democrat Tim Johnson, decides to run for a third term. Johnson is recovering from a brain hemorrhage last December, though his former colleague Tom Daschle stated earlier this summer that Johnson will seek re-election.
Last election, however, South Dakota voters seemed to move a bit closer to the Democratic side of the political spectrum—as did most states across the U.S. in Election 2006. The state’s at-large Representative to Congress, rising Democratic star Stephanie Herseth, won the third largest victory for a Democrat in a South Dakota U.S. House race in five decades (winning by 40 points).
But the biggest news for the Democrats came in the state Senate. From 2000 to 2004, Democrats lost by 24-11, 25-10, and 25-10 seat margins. In 2006, they gained five seats, losing 20-15.
Even more telling, the average margin of victory in state Senate races became, comparatively, much more competitive. The average margin of victory in such races in 2000 was 51 points, followed by 62 points in 2002, and 49 points in 2004. In 2006 this was cut in half, with a 25-point average margin of victory—including 14 races decided by 10 points or less. From 2000 to 2004 only 10 of the 105 Senate races were decided by this margin. While Democrats failed to field candidates in 6 Senate races last year, 45 percent of votes for state senator still went to the Democrats, compared to just 34 percent over the previous three election cycles.
But the news is not all good for Democrats—Governor Mike Rounds won re-election by nearly twice the margin as his inaugural victory in 2002.