Going All Out In S.D.

Posted March 5, 2004 at 6:18pm

White House senior adviser Karl Rove and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) will co-host a fundraiser for South Dakota state Sen. Larry Diedrich (R) at the end of the month, the latest sign of the importance the GOP has attached to the June 1 special election.

The March 30 event at the Chamber of Commerce is the first major Washington fundraiser for Diedrich, who is currently trailing Democrat Stephanie Herseth in the race to replace ex-Rep. Bill Janklow (R).

Herseth holds a solid lead over Diedrich in both polls and fundraising with less than 90 days remaining in the race.

Republicans are clearly putting significant emphasis on winning the at-large seat, a focus that has increased in the days following Rep. Ben Chandler’s (D) win in Kentucky 6th’s district on Feb. 17.

That victory was the first Democratic takeover in a House special election since 1991 and was touted by the party as a turning point in their still-uphill battle for House control.

Since the race to replace Janklow began, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has been imploring his colleagues to help Diedrich on a near-weekly basis.

Last Wednesday’s Republican Conference meeting took place off federal property at the Capitol Hill Club, allowing the Speaker to be more explicitly political in his plea.

“The message was, ‘Give [Diedrich] money and give him ground troops,’” said a Republican leadership aide.

Vice President Cheney will be in Sioux Falls for a fundraiser to benefit former Rep. John Thune (R) in his challenge to Sen. Tom Daschle (D) today, but Diedrich was not included on the invitation. Republican sources suggested late last week that Cheney might visit the state again for a separate Diedrich event before June.

“This is a very important race, and support from the D.C. community is vital,” said NRCC spokesman Carl Forti.

Diedrich received an additional boost from the national party Friday night when the NRCC hit the airwaves with its first independent expenditure of the special election.

The ad details the state Senator’s “eight years in the legislature fighting for lower taxes, affordable health care and better schools.”

“Actions speak louder than words,” says the ad’s narrator. “A real record. Real results.”

The spots came on the eve of Herseth’s official entry into the contest and are a subtle attempt to make an issue of her relative youth and inexperience. Herseth has been on the air with ads of her own since last Tuesday.

Herseth, who lost narrowly to Janklow in 2002, is also receiving significant support from the national party.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) and Sen. Tim Johnson (D) along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) held a Jan. 22 D.C. fundraiser to benefit the Democratic candidate.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Pelosi will host another D.C. event for Herseth on March 23.

“This is the sole focus of our Caucus,” said DCCC Communications Director Kori Bernards. She added that Members have contributed $68,000 to Herseth.

“We have been receiving an enthusiastic reception,” agreed Herseth spokesman Russ Levsen. “Members are interested in helping in any way they can.”

Democrats see the South Dakota race as a chance to further the momentum gained in Kentucky, while Republicans concede that party leaders don’t relish the idea of losing two special elections in one year.

Herseth’s early edge is due in large part to the positive name identification gained from her challenge to Janklow two years ago. She lost that race 53 percent to 46 percent despite outspending the four-term governor by $200,000.

Janklow resigned the seat Jan. 20 following a second-degree manslaughter conviction related to his involvement in an August 2003 car accident that left a motorcyclist dead.

Herseth also benefits from strong political lineage in the state, as her father is a long-time state legislator and her grandfather served as South Dakota governor in the 1950s.

That family history is laid out in a new 60- second television commercial — the first of the shortened campaign season — that went on the air Tuesday.

“Growing up in South Dakota Stephanie Herseth was taught the importance of public service, and she learned well,” says the ad’s narrator.

A second 30-second ad touts Herseth’s support for a trio of local issues, including country-of-origin labels on meat and increasing the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel. Both ads were produced by Steve Murphy.

Herseth’s strong financial showing has allowed her to begin her ads even as Diedrich is filming spots of his own.

From Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2003, Herseth raised $352,000, enabling her to bank a total of $354,000 thanks to money raised before the period.

Herseth’s campaign estimated that she had raised $800,000 by the end of last week.

Diedrich showed $34,000 in his campaign account at the end of 2003, which was left over after a brief run for the seat in 2002. He did not return a call seeking comment.

The two-term state Senator was not selected as the party’s nominee until late January and therefore had not yet actively begun raising money for this campaign at year’s end.

The Rove event is expected to give his fundraising a significant boost.

Rep. Ralph Regula (Ohio), whom Republican leaders have tasked with leading the effort to raise money for Diedrich, has played a key role in putting together the March 30 event. Regula is running to take the Appropriations Committee gavel in the 109th Congress and is eager to show off his fundraising bona fides.

Other Republican lawmakers who have been heavily involved in organizing the Rove event include Reps. Bob Ney (Ohio), Richard Pombo (Calif.) and Denny Rehberg (Mont.).