April 16, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Herseth Sandlin Faces Best GOP Opponent Yet

Republicans have unsuccessfully tried to knock off South Dakota Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin ever since she was elected six years ago in the rural, conservative state.

But with what could be a big Republican wave and an anti-incumbent narrative building -- not to mention a strong GOP nominee in state Rep. Kristi Noem -- party operatives believe they have the right mix of factors to beat the Congresswoman this year.

Democrats, meanwhile, are already trying to paint Noem -- an anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-gay-marriage conservative -- as a right-wing partisan.

They also note that Herseth Sandlin survived a tough environment before, winning her first race in 2004, a very good Republican year.

But that was before she had a Congressional voting record and before she owned the positive and negative aspects that come with incumbency.

Perhaps the one thing we do know for sure is that Herseth Sandlin faces what looks to be her toughest challenge yet, and for that reason CQ Politics is changing the rating of the race from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic.

South Dakota Republican Party Executive Director Lucas Lentsch compared Noem's candidacy to that of Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who unseated then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in 2004.

"There are folks that are saying Kristi Noem has the makings of a John Thune campaign," Lentsch said. "She's electrified voters across South Dakota."

Lentsch's enthusiasm comes after years of the GOP failing to find a strong challenger to Herseth Sandlin.

Noem was named to the highest level of the NRCC's "Young Gun" program on Wednesday. The race also signifies the first time in state history that two women will battle for a seat in Congress.

"Kristi Noem is everything that Stephanie Herseth claims to be but isn't," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tom Erickson said. "There's a lot of anger at Washington over the national debt and spending and Stephanie Herseth has been a part of that."

In particular, Noem's campaign is pointing to Herseth Sandlin's votes in favor of the stimulus package and more recently to raise the country's debt limit.

"South Dakotans are frustrated with politicians in Washington spending like there is no tomorrow," Noem campaign manager Joshua Shields said.

Herseth Sandlin's camp defends the stimulus vote as an important step in helping stabilize the economy.

"Kristi Noem condemns federal spending, yet every year she has been in the Statehouse she has happily relied on federal assistance to balance the state's budget," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Gabby Adler said. "Kristi Noem's double talk is not the type of leadership voters are looking for --this is just outright hypocrisy from a state legislator whose record shows she cares more about politics than South Dakota."

The Congresswoman has hardly been known as a reliable vote for Democrats.

Herseth Sandlin supporters note that she has carefully carved out a niche as a moderate, fiscally conservative Democrat, breaking with her party on important votes such as health care reform, cap-and-trade and the financial and auto industry bailouts.

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