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Herseth Tops Diedrich as Democrats Claim Another Pickup

Attorney Stephanie Herseth (D) narrowly defeated state Sen. Larry Diedrich (R) in Tuesday’s House special election in South Dakota, becoming the second Democrat this year to win a seat previously held by a Republican.

Herseth’s 51 percent to 49 percent margin amounted to fewer than 3,000 votes out of more than 260,000 cast. It also followed more than three months of paid media by the two candidates as well as both parties’ House campaign committees. All tolled, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee spent between $3 million and $4 million on the race.

Because of the close margin, neither Diedrich nor the NRCC conceded defeat. Herseth’s margin appeared to be outside of the range for an automatic recount, however.

Herseth claims the seat vacated by former Rep. Bill Janklow (R), who resigned in early 2004 following his conviction on second degree manslaughter for his involvement in an August 2003 car accident.

Coupled with Rep. Ben Chandler’s (D-Ky.) victory in mid-February, the South Dakota win gave House Democrats their first two-seat pickup in special elections in more than three decades. In both races the Democratic candidate began with a huge name identification edge that Republicans were unable to overcome despite the GOP tilt of the districts.

National Democrats immediately cast the race as further evidence that President Bush’s allegedly flagging popularity has created a potent political environment for their party.

”Tonight we saw more evidence that Americans want change in Washington,” said DCCC Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) in a news release, noting that Bush had won the state by 22 points in 2000.

Prior to Tuesday night, Republicans had argued that winning a race in which their candidate began with a 30-point deficit had always been a difficult proposition and dismissed any possible national implications for the race.

Diedrich had previously vowed to seek the full two-year term for the seat in November regardless of the special’s outcome, but past history indicates that Herseth will have a major advantage in that race. Only once in the previous 23 special elections has the winner of the special not gone on to win a two-year term.

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