Dow Jones Newswire
A top House Democrat predicted his party will prevail in a special election Tuesday in South Dakota, which would hand Democrats the second victory this year in Republican-leaning states.
The race involves Democrat Stephanie Herseth, 33, against Republican Larry Diedrich, 46, a former state senator. Both are vying for South Dakota's sole seat in the U.S. House.
The seat opened when former Rep. William Janklow, a Republican, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in a traffic accident that killed a motorcyclist.
Herseth leads in most polls. Democrats are hoping for a repeat of their success in Kentucky, when Rep. Ben Chandler, a Democrat, prevailed in a special election in February.
"To take back two Republican seats, back-to-back -it's a big deal," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday. "These are harbingers of things to come this fall."
Hoyer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., see a Herseth victory as providing momentum for Democrats' bid to regain the House, which Republicans control 228 to 205, with one independent who backs Democrats.
A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which organizes the Republicans' effort to hold on to power, said Hoyer is overly optimistic since the South Dakota race is too close to call.
Spokesman Carl Forti cited the Independent News Poll released by KELO-TV and the Argus Leader newspaper in South Dakota, showing Herseth ahead of Diedrich, 47%-44%, within the poll's four percentage point margin of error. That's down from the 58%-29% lead Herseth had in February.
"We've been able to erase that lead in three months," Forti said.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and First Lady Laura Bush both have campaigned for Diedrich in South Dakota.
Forti said the South Dakota and Kentucky races don't point to a national trend, since Democrats have "had the best candidates they could hope for" and they haven't recruited similar candidates in other races nationwide.
Yet Rep. Hoyer insists that generic polls in both the South Dakota and Kentucky districts showed Republicans with an advantage over Democrats. Both elections have been driven by voter dissatisfaction with the economy and with President George W. Bush's handling of the war with Iraq, he said.
Hoyer said 120 Democratic House members had contributed $222,400 to Herseth's campaign.