A Look at the South Dakota Senate Race

Think Progress has a good piece on how difficult it can be for Native American voters to get to the early polling places or to vote with an absentee ballot in South Dakota. Needless to say, the Republicans who run the state government are not vested with any self-interest in remedying the problem, so it’s no surprise that they haven’t availed themselves of federal monies that have been authorized for just such circumstances.

Thankfully, Daily Kos has been leading the way in the liberal blogosphere to help South Dakota’s Native Americans participate in this fall’s midterm elections. In such a small state, the impact of these kind of voter mobilization efforts is magnified.

The senate race in South Dakota is highly unusual and extremely hard to predict. The former Republican Governor Mike Rounds has been the favorite ever since he announced himself as a candidate. But he didn’t run much of a campaign and he’s been entangled in a nasty scandal about selling visas to the highest foreign bidder, as well as blatant conflicts of interest from some members of his administration that he knew about but did nothing to stop.

Complicating factors greatly has been the independent candidacy of former Republican U.S. Senator Larry Pressler. Mr. Pressler doesn’t have much money or organization, but he’s been polling strongly enough to add some doubt about how this three-way race will shake out.

The expectation is that both Pressler and the Democratic candidate, Rick Weiland, would caucus with the Democrats if they were to win this race, but it isn’t at all clear that either of them has a legitimate chance of winning. There were two polls in early October that offered some hope. A SurveyUSA poll put Pressler within striking distance of Rounds, while a Harper poll showed Weiland not too far behind. Something must have impressed the Democrats, too, because they suddenly reversed course a couple of weeks ago and dumped a million bucks into the state.

Nonetheless, the latest poll, which is from NBC/Marist, shows Rounds with a commanding 14 point lead over Weiland and 27 point lead over Pressler. This is consistent with all the polling that was taken this year prior to October.

I don’t have any special insight into this race. I don’t know why the polling contracted earlier this month or what the Democrats saw that led them to invest heavily around the same time. I do know that Rounds have been getting some unrelentingly bad press and that he’s run a lousy and complacent campaign.

All I can say is that some people seem to believe that Rounds could lose, but there isn’t much in the way of evidence to support that theory.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.