GOP Conversion of South Dakota Senate Seat in Jeopardy

A new Survey USA poll (Oct. 1-5; 616 likely South Dakota voters) conducted for various South Dakota news media outlets indicates that former governor and Republican US Senate candidate Mike Rounds faces a potentially imposing threat from an unlikely source.

Since the South Dakota Senate race is one of the three top GOP conversion opportunities that would replace a veteran retiring Democrat in what is normally a red state – in this case three-term Sen. Tim Johnson – Republican majority chances will likely be dealt a death blow if Rounds fails to come through. Now with a controversy brewing around his implementation of the federal EB-5 investment/visa program while governor, Rounds’ once secure hold on the Senate seat may be slipping away.

According to the Survey USA data, the former governor continues to lead the Senate campaign, but only by a 35-32 percent margin over 72-year-old former Republican US Sen. Larry Pressler, who hopped into the campaign as an Independent at the very end of the candidate qualifying period back in late April. Pressler served three terms in the Senate from 1979 until his defeat at the hands of then-US Rep. Tom Daschle (D), who would later become Majority Leader. Prior to serving in his statewide capacity, Pressler won two US House terms. Now dropping to third place in the race, but maintaining his high twenties support level is Democrat Rick Weiland, a former Daschle senatorial aide. He again posted 28 percent in the S-USA poll.

With Rounds falling to 35 percent, it is obvious that he would probably lose the race if facing only one opponent. But, at this late date, even if the non-Republican candidates wanted to coalesce – and there is no evidence suggesting they do – it is too late to alter the ballot. Therefore, the three-way race will remain intact, which is a clear benefit to Rounds. In the Alaska governor’s race and the Kansas Senate campaign, Democrats and Independents have joined forces to attack a perceived vulnerable Republican incumbent.

Rounds has been routinely attacked by Democrat Weiland and outside liberal organizations for his handling of the EB-5 program while governor. EB-5 allows extended visas for foreign individuals who invest large sums of money into job-creating American businesses. The program is difficult explain, but easy to attack. A Rounds attack ad over the issue is featured in the video at top, as is Rounds’ response (below).

While Pressler is moving forward in the polls, he has little in the way of resources and no fundraising operation. In the third quarter, for example, Pressler raised only $40,000 for his senatorial campaign effort, while loaning his campaign $200,000. Beginning October, he reported just $151,000 cash-on-hand. But, he is proving to be the chief beneficiary of the negative independent advertising against Rounds, which is substantial. And, such advertising promises to increase.

Just yesterday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) announced they will be spending $1 million on television in the campaign’s closing days in order further disparage Rounds. In support of Weiland, the Mayday PAC, which promotes government regulation of unconnected political campaign activities, has committed an additional $1 million to the South Dakota campaign.

Though most national political prognosticators are promoting the GOP’s chances to win the Senate majority, their quest becomes increasingly difficult if they continue to experience problems in three states where they should be favored: Kansas, North Carolina, and now South Dakota. Though only 26 days remain until the election, it’s clear we still have a very long way to go.

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