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Herseth wins South Dakota's special congressional election
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Democrat Stephanie Herseth is the first woman to represent South Dakota in Congress. (MPR photo/Cara Hetland)
Stephanie Herseth is on her way to Washington D.C. where she'll become the first woman to represent South Dakota in congress. Now that the special congressional election in South Dakota is over, campaigning for the November election begins almost immediately. Democrat Stephanie Herseth will face Republican Larry Diedrich again in November for a full two year term.

Sioux Falls, S.D. — The campaign was unusual in many ways. It began in January after Bill Janklow resigned from office following a manslaughter conviction. Stephanie Herseth ran and lost against Janklow in 2002, so she started this year's race with statewide name recognition and a 30-point lead. Republican Larry Diedrich was virtually unknown and had little money. But, he lost by fewer than 3,000 votes. Bill Richardson, chairman of the University of South Dakota political science department, says Diedrich's ability to narrow the gap in a short amount of time should inspire him and his campaign as things heat up soon for the November election.

"You're going to have a larger turnout and a larger turnout means you're going to see more Republicans come to the polls in addition to Democrats who weren't animated for this one," Richardson says. "And the chances are, there will be more pointed exchanges between these two candidates and they're going to have to be even more pointed that they have been to date because they've got to rise above the noise of the other campaigns that will be going on."

Richardson says going forward, Diedrich will have to modify his message. He says the Republican will need to talk less about being a farmer and more about economic development to attract voters in eastern South Dakota and the state's largest city, Sioux Falls.

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Image Republican Larry Diedrich

Larry Diedrich's campaign staff would not make anyone available for an interview. South Dakota Republican party officials also declined to speak to MPR.

Stephanie Herseth has the advantage going into the November election as the incumbent.

"Well, I'm going to focus on doing the job and feel that if I do that a majority of voters in South Dakota will reinvest in my leadership in November," Herseth said.

She talked to a group of supporters the morning after the election, that despite the debate there were many similarities between her and Diedrich. She talked about the need to support the troops and improve the economy.

"We also agree that we have to do more to lower the cost of health insurance for our small businesses and our families," she said. "We have to lower the cost of prescription drugs for everyone especially our seniors - seniors are counting on us just as we've counted on them. And I won't forget that in Congress either."

As the November election heats up many wonder how Washington coattails could influence the outcome. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle is in a tough battle for re-election. Herseth distanced herself from Daschle during the special election.

Political science professor Bill Richardson says for a Democrat to win in South Dakota, they must be moderate. Daschle's partisan positions don't always help with a largely Republican electorate in South Dakota. But, on the other hand, Richardson says President Bush may not help Larry Diedrich either.

"There's a point at which Bush's popularity can be a real drain on Republican candidates," Richardson says. "Part of what you are presenting as a Republican candidate here in the state, is your influence with the current administration and your ability to use that influence to the benefit of South Dakota."

Voter fatigue is also an issue heading into summer campaigning. There are already signs South Dakotans are tired of political ads, phone calls and campaign literature. Bill Richardson says polls have also been unreliable. That indicates people are not always voting the way they say they will.

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