While Democrats have been able to win statewide elections in South Dakota in recent years (Tim Johnson, Tom Daschle, Stephanie Herseth), Republicans have thoroughly dominated district races for the state legislature. Since 1960, Democrats have only eked out a tie in the House (1972) and have controlled the Senate after the elections of 1972, 1974, and 1992.

In 2006, Democrats picked up 5 seats in the Senate, reducing the GOP’s margin from 25-10 to 20-15. And now, for the first time since 1992, Democrats have a real shot at winning back the State’s upper legislative chamber. Here’s why:

• First of all, due to term limits, retirements etc., Democrats will actually have more incumbents on the ballot (13) than will the Republicans (11).

• Republicans will therefore be defending more than four times as many open seats (9) than Democrats (2). Neither of the open seats on the Democratic side was competitive in 2006 (decided by 10 points or less), while two open seats for the GOP (Districts 25 and 35) were very competitive during the last election cycle (decided by 5 points or less).

• Thirdly, the Democratic Party has fielded candidates in all 35 districts, compared to just 29 in 2006. Republicans failed to field candidates in two districts this year.

• Overall, the Democratic and Republican parties will be trying to hold about an equal number of districts that were competitive in 2006: seven for the Democrats, and six for the Republicans.

With a very popular U.S. Senator (Tim Johnson) and at-large U.S. Representative (Stephanie Herseth) on the ballot, Democrats are looking at their best chance to take back the Senate in a generation.