If Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson announces his retirement Tuesday as expected, it will trigger a fierce open-seat race in heavily Republican South Dakota that could attract some of the state's biggest political names.
The wire service Reuters reported Monday that Johnson is not planning to seek reelection. The third-term senator has set a press conference for 3 p.m. Central time on Tuesday in South Dakota to announce his 2014 plans.
Johnson has been considered likely to retire for the past few months, and much of the conversation has centered around his potential Democratic successors -- his son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, and former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Recent polling has shown Herseth Sandlin with a wide edge, but Democratic operatives say a primary between the two is unlikely. The former congresswoman has also been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate.
"I have no doubt that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin would be the strongest candidate Democrats could run for Senate in South Dakota," said Democratic media consultant Steve Murphy, who worked on Herseth Sandlin's 2010 House race. "She runs terrific campaigns."
If she chooses to run -- whether for Senate, governor or her old House seat -- she would bring a credibility with South Dakota voters, Murphy said. "Stephanie was a Blue Dog leader in the House, is a strong fiscal conservative," he said. "She'd be a strong candidate regardless of the electoral circumstances."
On the GOP side, former Gov. Mike Rounds launched his campaign just weeks after the 2012 election and has yet to draw a challenger. Some have suggested Rep. Kristi Noem -- who beat Herseth Sandlin in 2010 -- could provide a strong alternative, but she has not yet said if she's interested in the race. Republicans see the race as a strong pickup opportunity, and while some have questioned Rounds' conservative credentials, others cite his popularity and head-start as reason enough to keep the field clear.