On the heels of representatives John Barrow (D-GA-12), Steve King (R-IA-4), and Tom Price (R-GA-6) all declining to run for the US Senate just within the last week, former South Dakota representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD-AL) followed the trend yesterday by announcing that she, too, will remain on the political sidelines next year.
Though the Democrats are in an underdog position in trying to save retiring Sen. Tim Johnson’s (D) Senate seat, survey research and local political activists and analysts alike projected the former congresswoman to be the party’s strongest open seat candidate.
But the person viewed as the Democrats’ second-best contender, US Attorney Brendan Johnson, the retiring senator’s son, may also decline to run. More information is forthcoming that suggests Johnson, in fact, will not enter the race. Should such conjecture prove true, the Democrats will be without a top-tier candidate to protect a seat they currently possess.
The party’s one announced candidate, Rick Weiland, a former staffer for Sen. Tom Daschle (D), gave further indication that Brendan Johnson will not make the race. Telling reporters that he would not be running if he believed Johnson would become a candidate, Weiland faces a major challenge just to be considered viable.
On the Republican side, former two-term governor Mike Rounds has been running since the 2012 election ended. Rounds quickly made his intention clear, and declared for the seat months before Sen. Johnson made his decision to retire. Now that the senator is out of the race, and Herseth Sandlin and Brendan Johnson are declining to run, Rounds is in an even stronger position.
Clearly the South Dakota seat is one of two Democratic states that the Republicans, in the early going, are becoming prohibitive favorites to convert. The other is the open West Virginia, where Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) remains the only announced candidate to succeed retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D).
With the Democrats holding a 55-45 Senate majority, gaining these two open seats becomes the Republicans’ initial critical step for claiming control of the chamber. Even if successful in South Dakota and West Virginia, the party still needs four more conversion victories, assuming they hold all 14 of their in-cycle seats, so majority status is still a long shot. But, without South Dakota and West Virginia, their chances become almost nil.