is a state in transition. Originally a farm and ranch state, the
latest census data indicated that the metro areas of the state,
in particular Sioux Falls, exploded while the farmland that once
was the heart of the region continued to empty during the 1990s.
leaders of the state adopted an aggressive program of attracting
new businesses to South Dakota -- a state with no corporate or
personal income tax and a large, low-wage workforce.
Drawn by a
burgeoning financial services industry and other new firms, like
Gateway Computers and NordicTrak, the population of Sioux Falls
grew by 24 percent in a state where the total number of people
grew by .2 percent.
were shifting in the state's employment picture as well. By 2001,
financial management powerhouse Citigroup had become the state's
largest employer, edging out the meatpacking firm of John Morrell,
which had held the spot for decades.
among the Black Hills and rolling plains, South Dakota was originally
controlled by the Sioux Indians, who lived off the buffalo that
once roamed the prairie by the thousands. Ranchers, recognizing
the sweeping hills and fields would also support massive cattle
operations, slaughtered the buffalo and established massive farms.
first moved into the state in the late 19th century, farmers established
themselves in the southeast corner, east of the Missouri River.
As settlements fanned out further west and north, cattle ranchers
took over as farms receded.
It was that
division -- the farmers versus the ranchers -- that would underscore
politics in South Dakota for generations to come. Even in the
1996 Senate race between Rep. Tim Johnson and Sen. Larry Pressler,
the 100th meridian that bisects the state, largely marked the
division between those counties west of the line that voted for
the Republican Pressler and those east of the line that backed
later, when Johnson faced U.S. Rep. John Thune, that division
remained the bright line between Democrat and Republican. The
closely fought campaign re-elected Johnson by only a few thousand
who founded the state brought with them fiercely independent,
conservative political values. Since South Dakota joined the Union,
it has voted for a Democrat for president only four times -- 1896,
1932, 1936 and 1964. The state voted for President Richard M.
Nixon in 1972 even though a South Dakotan, Sen. George McGovern,
was running against him.
state, politics have been a bit more diverse. Democrats like Johnson
and Sen. Tom Daschle have capitalized on populist and agricultural
issues. But as the population of "The Mount Rushmore State"
edged further from the farm and more towards the suburbs, the
Democrats have seen their base dwindle.
Democrats' hold may be weakened in the long run, because the farm
issues which used to be their chief political asset seem less
and less important," Michael Barone wrote in the 2002 Almanac
of American Politics. "Population patterns... now look much
like those in the Rockies, with most people concentrated around
a few cities and towns, while vast acreage remains vacant, punctuated
with infrequent ranches and resort areas... South Dakota is not
a farm state any more."
has spelled disaster for every Democratic presidential candidate
since Lyndon Johnson and may threaten the senate's top Democrat
demographic challenges, Democrats have countered with a series
of closely fought victories for federal office.
The same year
Johnson narrowly won re-election, a 31-year-old attorney narrowly
lost her first run for Congress. The campaign of Stephanie Herseth
shocked many as she mounted a competitive race against political
icon and former governor Bill Janklow.
But a tragic
car accident re-opened the door for Herseth. Following a deadly
car wreck that killed a Minnesota man, U.S. Rep. Janklow was convicted
of manslaughter and forced to quit the House. In the special election
that followed, Herseth steamed to a narrow victory over state
Senator Larry Dietrick.
Now both Herseth
and Daschle must fight strong Republican challengers as they hope
to continue representing one of the most conservative states in
By Lee Banville, Online NewsHour