In a poll out today, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) is running nine points behind the GOP’s Kristi Noem, the Deputy Majority Leader in the State House of Representatives. Noem, 38, is at 51% to Sandlin’s 42%.
Sandlin, 39, is an outstanding candidate for the Democrats, and is Co-Chairman of the moderate Congressional Blue Dogs. She is a graduate of Georgetown and its law school, and for years she has emphasized her differences with the national Democratic Party.
Rep. Sandlin insists she is not a liberal, but this year she is having a hard time disguising her voting record. Sandlin’s grandfather was governor, her grandmother was secretary of state and her father was the Democratic Leader in the state legislature for two decades. The Congresswoman is now a three term incumbent who regularly receives over 60% of the vote in a GOP state.
Why is Rep. Sandlin having so much trouble this year? Election analyst Chris Smith, who previously served on the staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, answered this by saying:
Because she’s on the wrong side of an electoral wave. You can talk about Noem’s attractive candidacy all you want, but if it were 2006, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. When people are really angry with the incumbent party, they take it out disproportionately on that party’s moderates, not on its hard-core ideologues. It happens every time.
In 2006, Connecticut voters threw out two of the most moderate Republicans in the House – – Nancy Johnson, who’d served for decades, and Rob Simmons, who had served for three terms. Chris Shays, another long-serving Republican, barely survived, only to be defeated in 2008, another wave year, resulting in a congressional delegation free of Republicans.
This, in spite of the fact that Reps. Johnson, Simmons and Shays all had voted against several of the bills that had angered the voters most. The reason is this: “Swing” or moderate districts are more likely to elect swing candidates. This is particularly true of districts or states such as South Dakota and Connecticut, which vote reliably Republican (SD) or Democratic (CT) in presidential elections but are willing to elect members of the opposing party to Congress.
In a wave election year, however, a swing district or state is the most prone to change its mind about the direction the country should be going and thus replacing its centrist representatives of one party with a more reliable right or left member of the opposing party.