Democrats celebrated Stephanie Herseth's capture of a Republican-held House seat in South Dakota on Wednesday and claimed it portends greater gains in the battle for control of Congress.
Republicans argued that local factors settled the race, but some conceded privately that a sour national mood and President Bush's slumping support contributed to the defeat of GOP contender Larry Diedrich.
"It's time to put partisan politics aside," said Herseth, who squeaked to a 2,981-vote triumph in an election that drew heavy investment from the two parties seeking momentum for the fall. Turnout was large, with more than 261,000 ballots cast.
Herseth, the 33-year-old daughter and granddaughter of prominent politicians, is expected to take her seat today. She will complete the unexpired term of former GOP Rep. William J. Janklow, who was convicted of manslaughter after a fatal traffic accident and resigned his seat.
Her win shaves the GOP advantage in the House.
Democratic lawmakers were quick to trumpet Herseth's victory, three months after Rep. Ben Chandler was elected in Kentucky to a seat that had been in Republican hands.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House Democratic whip, said that "because of the energy for change, we are going to be able to put more seats in play" in November.
Once Herseth is sworn in, Republicans will have 228 seats and Democrats 206, with one Democratic-leaning independent.
"For Democrats to have any real gains, they've got to double the playing field" of competitive seats, said Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, who heads the Republican campaign committee.