Even before Rep. Stephanie Herseth is formally sworn into the 108th Congress today, the narrowly elected South Dakota Democrat has assumed a slot on the party’s list of most threatened Members.
Herseth, an attorney, isn’t wasting any time after edging out state Sen. Larry Diedrich (R) in Tuesday’s special election. The newest member of the Democratic Caucus will be sworn in this morning on the House floor, will join the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and secured a slot as one of 19 “Frontline,” or most vulnerable, House Democrats. Frontline is a fundraising initiative created this cycle by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to help secure threatened incumbents’ re-elections.
“The race starts today,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stressed to her Caucus in a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning. Herseth will be back on the trail this fall as she campaigns to win a full two-year term in November.
At today’s swearing-in ceremony, Herseth will be introduced by Pelosi and joined on the floor by her fellow South Dakota lawmakers, Democratic Sens. Tim Johnson and Tom Daschle, the Minority Leader. Herseth also will meet privately with the party’s top House leaders, and with a larger share of the Caucus at the Democrats’ weekly Whip meeting. Pelosi is hosting a welcoming reception in Herseth’s honor later in the day.
Pelosi immediately promised Herseth a slot on the Agriculture Committee, giving her the seat now held by retiring Rep. Frank Ballance (D-N.C.). House leaders were also looking to find a second position for Herseth.
“We will create committee assignments for her,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.). “We will take care of her interests.”
Leadership sources indicated that few positions are available for Herseth mid-cycle, but openings are possible on the Science or Small Business committees. Leaders may ask Members to take a leave from one of their panels to reward Herseth with a more coveted assignment for securing the party a key win, aides said.
Throughout the Caucus, Members were ecstatic about Herseth’s special election victory, the second this cycle in which a Democrat has stripped away a Republican-held seat. At the same time, however, lawmakers said Herseth’s win cannot be taken for granted.
“There is a very short amount of time between June and November,” stressed Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), adding that he will do all he can financially and otherwise to help Herseth win a two-year term.
“We’re not going to rest on our laurels here,” added Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).
Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), a leader of the Blue Dogs, said his group will raise money and travel on their newest member’s behalf in the coming months to ensure her incumbency. He added that victories by both Herseth and Rep. Ben Chandler (D) — who won a February special election in Kentucky — represent the key to Democratic victory this cycle.
“It’s relevant and interesting because Ben Chandler and Stephanie Herseth are both Blue Dogs and it’s going to take Blue Dogs running in these districts to get a majority back,” he said.