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Going All Out In S.D.

White House senior adviser Karl Rove and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) will co-host a fundraiser for South Dakota state Sen. Larry Diedrich (R) at the end of the month, the latest sign of the importance the GOP has attached to the June 1 special election.

The March 30 event at the Chamber of Commerce is the first major Washington fundraiser for Diedrich, who is currently trailing Democrat Stephanie Herseth in the race to replace ex-Rep. Bill Janklow (R).

Herseth holds a solid lead over Diedrich in both polls and fundraising with less than 90 days remaining in the race.

Republicans are clearly putting significant emphasis on winning the at-large seat, a focus that has increased in the days following Rep. Ben Chandler’s (D) win in Kentucky 6th’s district on Feb. 17.

That victory was the first Democratic takeover in a House special election since 1991 and was touted by the party as a turning point in their still-uphill battle for House control.

Since the race to replace Janklow began, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has been imploring his colleagues to help Diedrich on a near-weekly basis.

Last Wednesday’s Republican Conference meeting took place off federal property at the Capitol Hill Club, allowing the Speaker to be more explicitly political in his plea.

“The message was, ‘Give [Diedrich] money and give him ground troops,’” said a Republican leadership aide.

Vice President Cheney will be in Sioux Falls for a fundraiser to benefit former Rep. John Thune (R) in his challenge to Sen. Tom Daschle (D) today, but Diedrich was not included on the invitation. Republican sources suggested late last week that Cheney might visit the state again for a separate Diedrich event before June.

“This is a very important race, and support from the D.C. community is vital,” said NRCC spokesman Carl Forti.

Diedrich received an additional boost from the national party Friday night when the NRCC hit the airwaves with its first independent expenditure of the special election.

The ad details the state Senator’s “eight years in the legislature fighting for lower taxes, affordable health care and better schools.”

“Actions speak louder than words,” says the ad’s narrator. “A real record. Real results.”

The spots came on the eve of Herseth’s official entry into the contest and are a subtle attempt to make an issue of her relative youth and inexperience. Herseth has been on the air with ads of her own since last Tuesday.

Herseth, who lost narrowly to Janklow in 2002, is also receiving significant support from the national party.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) and Sen. Tim Johnson (D) along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) held a Jan. 22 D.C. fundraiser to benefit the Democratic candidate.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Pelosi will host another D.C. event for Herseth on March 23.

“This is the sole focus of our Caucus,” said DCCC Communications Director Kori Bernards. She added that Members have contributed $68,000 to Herseth.

“We have been receiving an enthusiastic reception,” agreed Herseth spokesman Russ Levsen. “Members are interested in helping in any way they can.”

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