Dakota Dunes flooding 08-15

U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., tours Dakota Dunes during Missouri River flooding on Aug. 15, 2011. The retiring Johnson is the longest-serving Democratic federal officeholder in a Republican state. 

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

There is no U.S. Senate race in either Iowa or South Dakota this year, so I got a little ahead of myself even though the 2012 general election is still five months away. After interviewing South Dakota Democratic Party Executive Director Ben Nesselhuf for a Journal Sunday article on the prospects of U.S. Sen. John Thune being tapped by Mitt Romney to be his Republican running mate, I moved to a different topic.

The U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Tim Johnson, of Vermillion, will expire at the end of 2014, so two years from now the senate race will be a big one in South Dakota. I asked Nesselhuf about speculation that if Johnson, who suffered a brain injury prior to winning re-election in 2006, decides two terms is enough, then the likely Democrat to step into the race is Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the state's sole U.S. House representative from 2004 through 2010 before losing to current Congresswoman Kristi Noem.

Nesslehuf said talk of Herseth Sandlin possibly running for the Senate seat could be a moot point, since he contended Johnson is giving signs he will seek a third term in 2014.

"Everything I have seen indicates he is running. He is raising money, he is getting out and visiting every corner of the state. If the Democrats hold the (Senate) majority (beyond 2012), and he continues to be chairman of the banking committee, that would be a darn tough thing to walk from. Especially for South Dakota, that relies so heavily on the banking industry, to have him walk away from that, I think would be detrimental to the state potentially," Nesselhuf said.

Nesselhuf said there is no rough deadline by which Johnson should be announcing whether he is in or out for 2014, that he can work on his own timetable. He also said it is not clear that Herseth Sandlin, 41, would want a return to D.C., raising a 3-year-old as she has a new job and new home in Sioux Falls.

"Stephanie has made it clear in both her public comments and my conversations with her that her first priority is to be a good mother to Zachary," Nesselhuf said.

"I would love to see her in the arena again, because she was so good. She wasn't the best politician, she was a great congresswoman. She is the type of person we need more of in Washington, and if I have an opportunity to vote for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin again, I would be excited to do it. But at the end of the day, she needs to decide what is best for her and her family."

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