Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is seriously considering a run for the U.S. Senate and plans to make her decision in the next few weeks, she told the Argus Leader this past weekend.
Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat who represented South Dakota in the U.S. House from 2004 through 2011, said she’s getting “encouragement” to run from both South Dakotans and national Democrats and is “still trying to make what’s going to be a very hard decision.”
She moved to Sioux Falls last year to work as a senior executive at Raven Industries. With her husband Max Sandlin, a former Texas congressman, she has a young son, Zachary.
Those personal and work factors are weighing heavily, Herseth Sandlin said.
“I’m really loving my work at Raven Industries,” she said. “I’m loving my family life in Sioux Falls, and the more time I get to spend with family and friends in South Dakota — and how important that is for Zachary.”
But Herseth Sandlin said she “will always have a desire to serve” and is taking people’s encouragement to run for office again to heart.
“I’ve been having some serious conversations with trusted friends, close family, some of the folks I’m currently working with,” she said. “I know that regardless of what the decision is going to be, I’m going to disappoint some folks. So I’ve got to make the decision I think is right for my family and me at this time. I’ve been starting to have more of those conversations over the last couple of weeks and will continue to have them.”
Political scientist Jon Schaff of Northern State University said Herseth Sandlin’s comments sound like someone who’s already thought through many of the issues.
“My suspicion is the questions about party and family have already been thought about and she’s decided what she’s going to do,” Schaff said. “If she puts it that way, that suggests she’s leaning strongly towards running.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson announced his retirement last month after nearly 18 years in the Senate, creating an open seat.
One Republican, former Gov. Mike Rounds, is already in the race. Other Republicans have said they’re considering a run for the seat, while Rep. Kristi Noem — who beat Herseth Sandlin in 2010 — has refused to rule out a challenge.
On the Democratic side, in addition to Herseth Sandlin, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson is widely rumored to be considering a run for Senate. The son of Tim Johnson, Brendan Johnson has refused to comment about politics, citing his current position. But supporters have waged an aggressive movement trying to “draft” him into the race.
Ben Nesselhuf, chairman of the South Dakota Democratic Party, said he’s convinced Democrats won’t face a primary for U.S. Senate.
“We’re blessed to have so many great candidates,” he said. “But I think at the end of the day, they understand that our efforts are better spent defeating the Republicans with whom we have very major disagreements, as opposed to spending resources and time fighting with each other.”
Herseth Sandlin said she would prefer “to take all the time in the world to make that decision,” but that she feels a certain amount of urgency, especially “since Sen. Johnson’s announcement that he’s retiring.”
“I know that for the benefit of a lot of (Democratic activists) who are energized and want to get out there and get behind a whole slate of candidates, the sooner the folks can make decisions and we can recruit other candidates in other races, the better,” she said. “I’m hoping to make that decision in the upcoming weeks.”
Schaff said entering the race sooner would have benefits for Herseth Sandlin.
“Could she possibly get out in front of Brendan Johnson and create some news and start officially raising money before he does?” he said. “There is at least some level of urgency.”