Democrat Stephanie Herseth's win Tuesday shares something in common with that of Republican John Thune: Both won statewide elections.
The challenge to win a U.S. Senate seat is no greater than it is in the U.S. House in South Dakota, said Bob Burns, head of political science at South Dakota State University.
"Since we have only one U.S. House seat, in order to win that seat, you must win a statewide election. That fact does put you in good position as a stepping stone toward a U.S. Senate seat," he said.
"I would look for her to be a competitive candidate for a U.S. Senate seat sometime down the road."
Herseth had 201,868 votes with only 16 precincts out of 827 precincts remaining to be counted. In his election, Thune attracted 196,017 votes.
As a result of her June win in the special election, Herseth, 33, was able to undo the argument advanced during the special election campaign that she's inexperienced, said Burns.
"I think she was also able to highlight her votes and making much to do of her moderate position as opposed to either an extreme right or an extreme left position as a new member of the U.S. House of Representatives," he said.
She conveyed her "close touch with South Dakota and her agricultural background and the fact that she had not lost track of those roots," Burns said.
Democrats must attract votes from the Republican majority to win, he said, adding that party registration often does not determine how people will vote.
Erin Hayes, 44, a construction manager for MidContinent Communications, said she picked Herseth over Republican Larry Diedrich because she see her as a bright and capable woman who has much to offer the state.
Hayes said she first met Herseth when the two were on the same flight, and she made a favorable impression on Hayes.
"We haven't had much of an opportunity to see what she can do," said Hayes of Herseth, who was elected to the U.S. House in special election held in June.
Karen Krcil, 37, a Democrat from Wagner, voted for Herseth. She said Herseth seems to be doing all right and was not convinced Diedrich could do any better.
Debbie Warriner of Sioux Falls, 48, a Democrat, takes catalog orders over the phone for various companies. She voted for Herseth and was a volunteer in her campaign.
Diedrich was too critical of Herseth during the campaign, Warriner said.
"I would have liked to have learned more about Diedrich through his ads instead of just why we should not vote for Stephanie."
Issues important to different constituent groups brought more votes to the Herseth camp, Burns said. "That meant that Republicans may have felt a stronger loyalty to some constituent group rather than to their party."
For example, some elderly Republicans may have felt stronger support for Herseth because of her backing of Medicare prescription drug reform and support of the current Social Security system, Burns said.