Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008

The Prairie Cyclone: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, 37, comes from a political dynasty: her grandfather was South Dakota's governor, her grandmother was secretary of state, and her father spent 20 years in the legislature. While in elementary school, she would often tag along with her father to the floor of the state assembly. "She'd sit there for hours, well beyond what a normal attention span would be for any 7- or 8-year-old," recalls her dad, Lars Herseth. "She was just fascinated." After that early internship, she went to Georgetown and earned three degrees, including one in law. She says she decided to forgo a Washington law career after former Senator Tom Daschle invited her to a leadership workshop in the Black Hills, but it is likely that genes played an influential role too. Elected to South Dakota's lone House seat in 2004, Herseth Sandlin has focused on energy, agriculture, bio fuels and rural access to broadband. Though moderate in her politics and reserved in person, she can roar on the stump. Her fiery speeches have made her popular at party events across the West and led to speculation that she might one day run for President. For now, Herseth Sandlin's ambitions remain very close to home: she and husband Max Sandlin, a former Texas Democratic Congressman, are expecting their first child in December.

— Jay Newton-Small