SD is a red state where we rarely get both. It is possible. I cut my political teeth in the 1970s when SD had a Democratic governor for eight years in a row, more than the minivan full of Democratic state legislators that now serve, two US Senators with a D after their name (at the same time - a feat repeated in the late 1990s) and intermittent Democratic House members who won by wearing out their cars driving across this sparsely populated state to personally meet voters. For what it was worth, we had the Democratic presidential nominee RIP. In a mostly white state, Native American issues were brought to national attention with the occupation of Wounded Knee. Recently, every year brings more anti-woman legislation to the statehouse and progressive South Dakotans cringe as the state is ridiculed again on the national stage. Yet SD passed the ERA in 1973. It was a golden age of sorts for Democrats in SD. Can 2014 be a re-creation of that period? I don't see it. But I wish I was wrong. I wish we had the resources to make me wrong.
Follow me across the tangled knot of more vs. better threads.
A part of me can imagine scenario upon unliklier scenario leading to a repudiation of the anti-intellectual, self-defeating conservatism that has had a stranglehold on the state for decades on end. A part of me is unwilling to accept the reality state Democratic leaders say we must accept when they leave a US Senate seat unchallenged or when they run Blue Dog Democrats and former Republicans and even current Republicans (for Lt. Gov.). Especially when they lose. But the reality is that progressive Democrats lose too. And they have lost badly.
I have diaried in the past about my disappointment in Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a proud Blue Dog Democrat. She voted for Speaker Pelosi and against her president's ACA angering progressive Democrats to this day and still not getting enough politcal mileage from Republicans to overcome their fury at her vote for Pelosi. So if the recent PPP poll (reported on the DK front page) show she is the leading candidate to retain the seat if incumbent US Senator Tim Johnson, D-SD decides to retire, should she get our support?
It comes down to purity. Do we need more Democrats to get any majority in the Senate? Or better Democrats to choose leaders with backbone even if they are a minority? Do we need more Democrats to make Republican obstruction numerically more difficult or to make a potential Obama Supreme Court nominee more likely to be approved. Or do we need better Democrats to represent the majority of voters in this country who agree with our positions? To stand for Democratic principles and lead? To make the changes we need to truly take our nation forward and to make the Democratic brand mean something - something we can be proud off?
As a South Dakota voter, there is an valid argument to be made that sitting out a vote if Herseth Sandlin or another Blue Dog Democrat is the candidate is a legitimate choice. Am I better off with a Democratic Senator who votes against progressive, or even mainstream Democratic issues, while representing not only my state but my political party? At least if a Republican votes against my issues and my interests, I can have the satisfaction that they are not doing it in the name of my political party with my party's money and my party's volunteer efforts.
The impact of the state's votes in Congress is minute. We have had a know-nothing, do-nothing Senator (Thune) and Congresswoman (Noem) both reelected to office and life in the state continues on without much observable impact to the average resident compared to when we had Herseth Sandlin or even Daschle in office instead. Progressives can support ActBlue candidates in other races across the country and have a voice that way. My representation in Washington is less from my SD lawmakers than from my progressive lawmakers.
But SD Democrats deserve to have a real voice who will listen to them as constituents, not just supporters. And the reality is that the other side of this argument is that the Republican "lifelong resident-never left the farm-anti-intellectual-socially conservative-real South Dakotan" meme being used to win office means it is extremely unlikely that these politicians will ever evolve into anything else. They have defined themselves into a self-limited box. Meanwhile Democratic candidates, flawed with electability-infused hesitancy on guns, immigration, abortion, gay marriage, climate change or any progressive issues, nevertheless have the "elitist" education, out of state experience and intellectual curiosity to grow from their national service and become more inclusive and progressive. It's an investment. It's a risky one, given the nature of politics, but it is probably the only way SD will elect any progressive in the near future.
So, what is a progressive - in SD or here at DK- to do? What is our mission if we can't have both more and better Democrats? Do we get there by incremental change, starting with more and covering for Blue Dogs who vote against our issues to protect their electability in conservative districts where we are lucky to elect any Democratic candidate? Or do we take a stand and demand that being a Democrat actually stands for something? Especially when being a Republican so glaringly stands for being something that is unacceptable on so many levels.
I know there are Democratic candidates in SD who believe in their hearts what I believe. Do we invest in their candidacies with a 50-state strategy or focus limited energy and funds only on key races? Do we look at the next election cycle or the next generation?
Like the title of this diary, the answer is to do both. There is no one-size-fits-all-districts solution. But we need each other. The debate and the discussion keep us honest and more importantly, on track, even if a red district is lost or drifts off course. I'm not a politician. I don't know when it's justifiable to give a candidate cover for voting against the party. I will take it on faith that it may sometimes be necessary. I will also point out that it's no guarantee that the strategy will work, as Herseth Sandlin found out.
Senator Tim Johnson is a rarity in politics. He is a genuinely nice guy who has served his state for 26 years without self-promotion and without ever losing an election, despite a tendency for SD voters to want to give new candidates a chance for no other reason than that the incumbent has had their chance. He has health issues but they haven't prevented him from winning reelection in the past. If he is ready to step down, or chooses to do so because of polling, he certainly can't be faulted. But he has been up to the job, especially compared to the accomplishments of his fellow SD delegation.
His son Brendan is an accomplished attorney and a bright political rising star without the baggage of a Blue Dog voting record. He appears to lag in the PPP poll because of lack of name recognition, something relatively easy to fix in such a small state. I wouldn;t write him off based on a poll this early in the cycle.
Herseth Sandlin comes from a respected political family in SD and has an approval rating amongst SD Democrats of over 80% (and equal to Johnson amongst Obama voters in the state) according to the PPP poll. She has been right on some issues and may be someone who could grow, with experience, into a candidate I would be proud to support. But for now, there are serious questions that should be openly discussed. And she should be held accountable for her votes before being assumed to be the only candidate who can win. Her numbers are good in this poll, but it's only a poll. and she isn't even a candidate.
SD is a sparsely populated state where campaigns are relatively inexpensive and if none of the front-runners we talk about here opt to run for the Senate seat, and it's entirely possible that none of them will, a lesser known candidate could make all my angst about a certain Blue Dog meaningless.
There are many races in SD next year: governor, US representative at large, the US senate seat and an entire state legislature overpopulated with regressive right-wing fanatics who need to be replaced, developing a deeper bench for future Democratic races. I'm pleased to see the state Democratic leader recognizing the importance of rebuilding the party; of not conceding races. SD is not the only red state. We can learn from and help each other. Let the discussions continue.
Vacant’ sign hung on Johnson's Senate seat Local speculation.
More local discussion about poll data.
And a shout out to the ongoing diary series on 2014 Senate races including this one by poopdogcomedy