South Dakota Senate race: ex-governor looms large

AP News
Posted: May 31, 2014 10:30 AM
South Dakota Senate race: ex-governor looms large

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — As former Gov. Mike Rounds worked a room of young professionals, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate offered them a simple reason to vote for him Tuesday: The GOP is six seats away from controlling the Senate and retaking South Dakota from the Democrats is a must.

The incumbent, Democrat Tim Johnson, is retiring. That's presented the GOP with an enticing opportunity in a state where Republicans control state government, one of the Senate seats and the lone U.S. House seat.

Democrat Rick Weiland, who's unopposed, has built a strong grassroots campaign reminiscent of his former boss, U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle.

But little outside money has come in to buoy the race. National Democrats have made no investment, in contrast to other races the party views as must-wins.

Outside groups have poured money into states such as Kentucky, where Democrats are trying to defeat the Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and North Carolina, where Democrats are defending Sen. Kay Hagan. But they've stayed out of South Dakota.

But before taking on Weiland, Rounds must navigate a crowded Republican primary with four other candidates — two state legislators, a physician and an attorney in the Army Reserves.

"Our numbers are solid," he said, but voter turnout could be a factor.

Rounds' rhetoric focuses on Washington's failings. He calls it broken and dysfunctional and pledges to bring South Dakota common sense to the nation's capital.

At a recent campaign gathering in a private home, Rounds said Congress needs to balance its budget and live within its means to reduce the $17 trillion debt. He wants to repeal the health care law and replace it with a market-based product that continues portability.

"We can make it better than what it is," he said. "But you have to replace it section by section."

Rounds has expressed confidence in Tuesday's outcome and there are reasons to believe he may have an edge.

None of Rounds' Republican opponents seems to have emerged from the pack. Also, Weiland hasn't matched his fundraising. Rounds has $636,000 on hand while Weiland has banked $310,000, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission report.

Weiland, a businessman and former adviser to Daschle, has emphasized his independence and occasionally rapped the Obama administration.

He recently drew attention when he joined many Republicans in calling for President Barack Obama to fire Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and for changes in the department. Shinseki resigned Friday.

Two independents, including former GOP Sen. Larry Pressler, are also running.


Jackson reported from Washington.