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Democratic Party Failure to Field Candidate in South Dakota U.S. Senate Race Is Historic

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The South Dakota Democratic Party's plunge from 49 percent of the vote in 2004 to falling off the ballot in 2010 is the greatest in the nation since the end of WWII

While South Dakota has long been a Republican stronghold in state politics and presidential elections, the Democratic Party has performed quite competitively in the Mount Rushmore State in Congressional races for several decades.

However, in what can only be described as an embarrassment for Democrats, the Party's failure to field a candidate in the U.S. Senate contest against 1-term GOP incumbent John Thune marks the first time in 34 contests since popular vote U.S. Senate elections were introduced in 1914 that a Democratic candidate has failed to appear on the ballot in South Dakota.

But the Democrats' absence from the ballot against Senator Thune is even more historic than that.

Smart Politics analyzed more than 1,050 general election U.S. Senate races conducted since the end of World War II, and found there to have been 58 contests in which either the Democratic Party or Republican Party failed to field a candidate. (The 2010 South Dakota Senate race makes 59).

Across these 58 elections, there has never been a greater plunge into oblivion in the race for a U.S. Senate seat from either party than what has happened in South Dakota in 2010 - from the 49.4 percent of the vote tallied by 2004 Democratic nominee Tom Daschle, to being completely off the ballot six years later.

The previous record was held by Virginia Democrats in 2002 when they failed to field a challenger against Republican John Warner, after notching 47.4 percent of the vote with Democrat (and future Senator) Mark Warner six years prior in 1996.

For the GOP, the biggest drop off is held by Louisiana Republicans in 1992, when the Party did not field a challenger against conservative Democrat John Breaux. Six years prior, in 1986, Republican U.S. Representative W. Henson Moore won 47.2 percent of the vote against Breaux when he won the first of his three terms.

Largest Percentage of Major Party U.S. Senate Vote, Followed by No Candidate on the Ballot Six Years Later, 1946-2010

Rank
State
Party
Period
Percent
1
South Dakota
Democratic
2004 to 2010
49.4
2
Virginia
Democratic
1996 to 2002
47.4
3
Louisiana
Republican
1986 to 1992
47.2
4
Arkansas
Republican
2002 to 2008
46.1
5
Massachusetts
Republican
1996 to 2002
44.1
6
Arkansas
Republican
1984 to 1990
42.7
7
Arizona
Democratic
1994 to 2000
39.5
8
Mississippi
Democratic
1984 to 1990
39.1
9
Kansas
Democratic
1996 to 2002
34.4
10
Alabama
Republican
1972 to 1978
33.1
11
Indiana
Democratic
2000 to 2006
31.9
12
Virginia
Republican
1948 to 1954
30.7
13
Virginia
Republican
1946 to 1952
30.5
14
Virginia
Democratic
1984 to 1990
29.9
15
Idaho
Democratic
1998 to 2004
28.4
16
Mississippi
Democratic
1996 to 2002
27.4
17
Vermont*
Democratic
2000 to 2006
25.4
18
Louisiana
Republican
1962 to 1968
24.4
19
Florida
Republican
1950 to 1956
23.7
20
West Virginia
Republican
1970 to 1976
22.4
21
Alabama
Republican
1968 to 1974
22.0
22
Florida
Republican
1946 to 1952
21.3
23
Louisiana
Republican
1960 to 1966
20.2
24
Georgia
Republican
1984 to 1990
20.1
25
Louisiana
Republican
1972 to 1978
19.1
26
Alabama
Republican
1944 to 1950
16.9
27
Virginia
Republican
1970 to 1976
15.3
28
Hawaii
Republican
1968 to 1974
15.0
29
Arkansas
Republican
1944 to 1950
14.9
30
Louisiana
Republican
1950 to 1956
12.3
* Bernie Sanders declined to accept the Vermont Democratic Party nomination in 2006. Note: General elections only. Data compiled from the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House by Smart Politics.

Historically, it was the Republican Party that struggled to field candidates across the nation in U.S. Senate races - accounting for 49 of the 58 absences from the ballot in such contests from 1946 through 2008.

This tally was due in large part to the dominance of the Democratic Party in the South until the last few decades - with 47 of these 49 GOP absences occurring prior to the Republican Revolution of 1994, with all but one of these taking place in the South (Hawaii, 1974).

However, since 1994, it is the Democratic Party which has seen the larger gap in its electoral resume - tallying seven U.S. Senate races without a candidate on the ballot compared to just two for the GOP.

From 1946 through 1988, the Democrats had an unblemished record - fielding a nominee in each of the 730 U.S. Senate general elections that were conducted during this span.

Overall, Louisiana is the state with the most U.S. Senate elections with just one major party candidate on the ballot since the end of World War II with 10, followed by Georgia and Mississippi (8 each), Arkansas and Virginia (7 each), and Alabama (4).

General Election U.S. Senate Races After World War II without a Democrat or Republican on the Ballot, 1946-2008

State
No GOP
No DEM
Total
Louisiana
10
0
10
Georgia
8
0
8
Mississippi
6
2
8
Arkansas
7
0
7
Virginia
5
2
7
Alabama
4
0
4
South Carolina
3
0
3
Florida
2
0
2
West Virginia
1
0
1
Texas
1
0
1
Massachusetts
1
0
1
Hawaii
1
0
1
Indiana
0
1
1
Vermont*
0
1
1
Idaho
0
1
1
Kansas
0
1
1
Arizona
0
1
1
Total
49
9
58
* Bernie Sanders declined to accept the Vermont Democratic Party nomination in 2006. In 1952, California Republican William Knowland cross-filed and received both the Republican and Democratic nominations, so the Democratic Party technically had a candidate on the ballot that year. Data compiled from the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House by Smart Politics.

And how big of a step back is the 2010 South Dakota debacle for the Democratic Party?

To be sure, Republicans have dominated South Dakota state politics.

The GOP has won 42 of 52 gubernatorial contests dating back to statehood, with Democrats winning eight and one contest each won by the People's Party (1896) and the Fusion Party (1898). Only four Democrats have ever won the office: William Bulow (1926, 1928), Tom Berry (1932, 1934), Ralph Herseth (1958), and Richard Kneip (1970, 1972, 1974).

However, in Congressional elections, South Dakota Democrats had been quite competitive, electing a mixture of conservative to moderate candidates into the U.S. House and Senate across the last few generations.

· Democrats have won 11 of the last 15 elections for the state's at-large seat in the U.S. House of Representatives dating back to 1982, including the last four by Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

· Democrats have also won 10 of the last 16 U.S. Senate elections in the Mount Rushmore State dating back nearly 50 years to 1962.

Senator Thune will be opposed by Independent candidate (and 2002 Libertarian nominee) Kurt Evans in November. Other independents may jump into the race prior to the June filing deadline.

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