Privately, Democratic leaders say they’re not likely to make any public moves on the race until Herseth Sandlin decides either way.
“We’re trying to really make the effort to build momentum and consensus ... and make it clear that if and when he does enter the race, he’ll be able to enter from a strong position,” Casey said, adding that Brendan Johnson would “stand up for core Democratic values.”
Herseth Sandlin, he said, signaled alarm bells for progressives with her opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul bill, among other things.
Casey hasn’t spoken to Brendan Johnson directly. He also hasn’t heard from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or anyone else in D.C. who might urge the Draft Brendan Johnson movement to stand down for the time being.
A moderate Democrat and leader of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, Herseth Sandlin held South Dakota’s at-large House seat from 2004 to 2011. She lost re-election in 2010 to Noem by mere points.
After losing re-election, Herseth Sandlin stayed in Washington to work in the lobby practice of Olsson Frank Weeda. In May 2012, she moved back to South Dakota to take a new job as general counsel of Raven Industries and to be closer to her husband and young son.
The move raised suspicion that she could be replanting her home-state roots for a future run for office, but so far she hasn’t indicated the extent of her political aspirations. Calls from CQ Roll Call to her office at Raven Industries went unreturned, but it’s no secret she’s giving the 2014 Senate race consideration.
The DSCC declined to comment on which candidate it is recruiting for the South Dakota senate seat. But a national Democratic strategist familiar with the state’s political landscape said he doubts it will come down to a primary.
If Democratic officials want to avoid a primary, however, Herseth Sandlin should make up her mind soon, Nesselhuf said. Johnson, emboldened by the groundswell of support, could decide to just jump in the race, blocking out Herseth Sandlin entirely.
“My impression from talking to folks is, she has a rapidly closing window if she wants to get in,” Nesselhuf said. “If she’s going to do it, the sooner she gets in, the better.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.