Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Race of the Day- South Dakota U.S. Senate

34 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Likely Republican

South Dakota is a pretty heavily Republican state and this year, it has been taken for granted that Republicans will pick up a Senate seat. Democrat Tim Johnson has represented the state in Congress since 1987, moving up to the Senate a decade later, and despite the state's conservative lean, found political success at the polls. Even after suffering a very serious stroke in 2006, Johnson, whose speech and mobility were affected, would win a solid reelection victory two years later.

During this most recent term, Johnson was often mentioned as a likely candidate for retirement. Even before his intentions became clear, the state's recently term limited former Republican Governor Mike Rounds looked likely to enter the race and would have posed a serious threat to Johnson's continuing in the Senate. Fairly early in 2013 however, Johnson announced his retirement and GOP chances of a pickup improved even further. Some Democrats had felt that either Senator Johnson's son Brendan, the U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, or recently defeated Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin could mount credible campaigns, but both Democrats declined to run. That left the party looking at less satisfying alternatives, and the nomination went without opposition to Rick Weiland, a businessman, former Senate staffer, and regional FEMA Director, who had also run statewide as the party's nominee for Congress in 1996 and for another unsuccessful chance at that nomination in 2002.

As expected, former Governor Rounds did enter the race, but not all in the South Dakota GOP were sold on his candidacy. While Rounds would be considered a solid conservative by most standards, many in the Tea Party felt that they could have a better option on fiscal issues. While his ultimate victory in the June primary was never really in doubt, Rounds was held to just under 56 percent of the vote, not an overwhelming number in a primary for someone who had been a popular Governor. State Senate Majority Whip Larry Rhoden and State Representative Stace Nelson fought closely for second place, with two other candidates also in the field. While Rounds is the GOP nominee, another conservative former Republican State Senator is on the ballot as an Independent. That candidate is polling far from double digits, but could certainly hurt Rounds hypothetically in a close race.

However, it is another Independent candidate that is bringing the most intrigue to this race. Larry Pressler, now 72 years old, was elected as a Republican to Congress from the state 40 years ago, and moved up to the Senate four years later. The first Vietnam veteran in the Senate, he even made a brief run for the GOP Presidential nomination in 1980. Pressler would go on to serve in the Senate until he was ousted by Tim Johnson in 1996. During his years in Washington, Pressler developed a reputation for being a bit on the strange side but maintained a fairly mainstream conservative voting record. He had tried to make a comeback for the lower House of Congress in 2002 before ending that run, after having flirted with a run for Mayor of Washington D.C., and then eventually moved sharply to the left, twice endorsing Barack Obama for President.

Pressler entered the 2014 Senate race as an Independent, and in theory, the longtime former GOP Senator should be hurting Rounds' candidacy. While Pressler is trying to sell himself as a centrist, it seems like his maverick populist campaign is appealing more to those on the left in his state, hurting the Democrats' second- tier nominee.

It is interesting to ponder what the state of the race would be in a traditional Democrat vs. Republican contest. Weiland's campaign would say that they would be very competitive with Rounds, but I am somewhat skeptical of that. I am a bit surprised that Pressler seems to be polling as strong as he is now, and if recent numbers are accurate, he may very well finish second. Unlike Kansas however, the Democrat nominee does not seem like he is going to drop out in favor of a potentially more effective Independent. (I did say that once on here about Kansas though as well.) The most recent poll show Rounds ahead 39 to 26 for Weiland, while Pressler is at 24 percent. That poll shows that Rounds would lead Weiland by eight in a shorter, but would be close to tied with Pressler in the same situation. The conservative Independent candidate would pick up support though. With that in mind, it does seem that Pressler, despite hurting the Democrat more, is drawing votes from both major candidates, and that some on the right will take just about anybody with an I next to their name as an alternative to Rounds.

Despite all of this and despite perhaps having run a less than stellar Senate campaign, the math just does not add up for anyone to stop Mike Rounds from winning a seat in the Senate and earning a pickup for the GOP. The national Democrats seem to have long ago written this one off and will focus instead on protecting vulnerable incumbents. Rounds is very likely to win, but the race for second between a Democrat and a former Republican could be tight.

Rounds campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far: 12 D (7 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup), 19 R (8 Safe, 4 Likely, 4 Leans, 3 Tossup) 
Overall predicted thus far: 46 D, 49 R (net Republican gain of 7)


At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Conservative Democrat said...

Rounds should get around 45% in a three-way race as he cruises to victory.


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