PIERRE - Associated Press reports that Democratic officials are saying that South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson will not seek re-election. He would be the 5th Democratic Senator to announce that they are retiring at the end of their term, compared to two Republicans.

In order to take control of the Senate, Republicans would need to pick up 6 seats. This opening represents a prime opportunity for them to gain one, as there is not a Democratic heir apparent in this deeply red state.

Wheels are already turning on both sides to find a replacement for Sen. Johnson. The two most likely candidates are former Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, and the Senator’s son, US Attorney Brendan Johnson. Republican former Governor Mike Rounds announced last year that he will seek the seat, and Johnson’s retirement will help his chances dramatically.

Democrats face an uphill battle seeking statewide office in South Dakota, especially in a non-presidential election year when turnout is lower. If the Republican nominee ultimately is Rounds, running against a popular two-term governor won’t make it any easier this time.

Herseth Sandlin, despite, or perhaps because of, her disavowal of Obamacare couldn’t fend off the challenge of now Rep. Noem. For his part, Brendan Johnson has never been elected to any office. A primary would be a helpful exercise in this instance, and hopefully give these two or who ever else might be interested a chance to sharpen their knives.

If Democrats hope to win this seat, they are not going to be able to follow the typical process of trotting out some milquetoast who apologizes for being slightly to the left of the Republican. Their only chance will come through going after the people who don’t usually vote in these elections, mainly because they think both parties are essentially the same. In the end, Democrats might not win this seat, but it would be nice to see whoever wins the nomination give a full-throated airing of progressive principles because South Dakota needs to hear it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Gossom and do not reflect Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its sponsors or subsidiaries.