On Wednesday, the South Dakota U.S. Senate race turned interesting:


South Dakota Democrats got a candidate for Senate on Wednesday – and it wasn’t who people expected.

Rick Weiland, a former Tom Daschle aide who ran for Congress in 1996 and 2002, told the Argus Leader that he will try to win the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Tim Johnson.

Meanwhile, Weiland and others say Johnson’s son, Brendan, the U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, won’t run for Senate as some had urged.

In an email Wednesday night, Johnson said he is focused on his job.

"My focus remains strictly on being the state's chief federal law enforcement officer, that focus had not changed nor has my commitment to not discuss politics while serving the people of South Dakota as US Attorney," he wrote. - Argus Leader, 5/8/13

Weiland's entrance into the race shakes things up a bit, especially since everyone is waiting to see what former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D. SD-AL) is heavily speculated to run for Senator Tim Johnson's (D. SD) seat.  But I like why Weiland is running for Senate:


“I'm focused on getting out there and talking to the people of our state, having the conversation about their concerns, cares. I really feel that Washington is broken right now,” he said.

Weiland is a Madison, SD-native, and a long-time Daschle staffer who ran unsuccessful Congressional campaigns in 1996 and 2002. He says he only decided weeks ago to run again. Apart from his broken government message, Weiland said senior programs like Medicare and Social Security will be focuses of his campaign.

“The American people like them,” he said. “They've given dignity to people in their retirement years. They've given people access to healthcare at a point in your life where it's hard to get when you get older.”

Weiland was a regional FEMA director, working with national officials in South Dakota following the Spencer Tornado in 1998. He has also worked for the South Dakota AARP and the International Code Council, which he stepped down from that last year. - Keloland, 5/8/13

Now there is some skepticism about Weiland's ability to win the nominee:


In 1996 Rick Weiland won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives seat that Johnson was leaving to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler. Johnson won, but things didn’t go as well for Weiland. He did win the nomination in a four-way race, getting 42 percent and using a Tom Daschle postcard that went a long way with the older Democrats, defeating Jim Abbott, Linda Stensland and Dennis Jones in the process. The general election was a different story. While Rick was campaigning deep into the night on election eve, Republican John Thune was preparing to spend election day hunting pheasants. Final result was Thune, in his first run for Congress, winning with about 58 percent in a four-way race. Weiland received 37 percent. That was about six points less than the Clinton-Gore ticket received in South Dakota that day.

Then in 2002 Weiland tried a comeback. He ran in a four-way Democratic primary for the House nomination against Stephanie Herseth, Denny Pierson and Dick Casey. Good candidates all, and some truly good debates between them, but Herseth won in a runaway with 58 percent, followed by Weiland at 32 percent and the others in single digits. Herseth lost in the November general election to Republican Bill Janklow, then won a pair of contests in 2004 against Republican Larry Diedrich after Janklow’s manslaughter conviction and resignation from the House seat. Herseth went on to victories again in 2006 and 2008 before falling to Republican Kristi Noem in 2010. She’s pondering a candidacy for Senate in 2014.

So it’s hard to see the angle for a Rick Weiland candidacy this time, 12 years later after losing to Herseth (now Herseth Sandlin), unless he’s 1) hoping for a federal appointment out of it or 2 ) has the winning numbers for tonight’s Powerball drawing. But he gets credit for being willing to step forward, when no other Democrat has so far. And who knows if he might beat Herseth Sandlin this time. But so far, even in her worst showings, she received a bigger percentage of the votes in 2002 and 2010 than Weiland did against Thune. - Rapid City Journal, 5/8/13

But Weiland's candidacy has his old boss' full support:
“I encouraged him with great enthusiasm,” Daschle told the Argus Leader on Wednesday night.

Besides having experience working as a staffer and in other capacities, Weiland has become a successful businessman since his work in government, Daschle said. He and his wife own a successful restaurant in Sioux Falls, along with other ventures.

“I think he’s even more well rounded than when he ran before,” Daschle said.
Ben Nesselhuf, the chairman of the South Dakota Democratic Party, said the news reflected Democratic confidence.

“I think that this is a strong indicator of how bullish Democrats are that we are going to keep this seat,” Nesselhuf said. “Mike Rounds is a very flawed candidate and there are several Democrats who would relish taking him on.”

In a statement, Rounds said he is “prepared to take on all comers” and is focused on “engaging South Dakota voters and gaining their support.”

Weiland forecast a populist campaign, saying he wanted to fight for working families and against special interests he said “snuck into Washington and stole our government away from us.”

“I really believe that a majority of people in South Dakota, Democrats and Republicans, feel the same way I do,” he said. “We’re not a state of big corporations and billionaires. We’re a state of hard-working, ordinary middle-class families.” - Argus Leader, 5/8/13

Plus Weiland at least wants to give South Dakota Democrats an alternative in to Herseth Sandlin in this race:


Speculation among Democrats in recent months has centered on whether Johnson’s son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, or former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin will run for the Senate seat. Herseth Sandlin has said she will make a decision by the end of May.

Weiland said he decided to run after speaking recently to Brendan Johnson.

“He told me he is focused on being our U.S. attorney. I wouldn’t have jumped in if I thought he was going to run,” Weiland said.

Ryan Casey, of Sioux Falls, the Lincoln County Democratic Party chairman who has led an effort to draft Johnson into the race, issued a statement Wednesday praising Weiland’s decision to run and urging Democrats to support Weiland. Casey said he spoke recently to Johnson and is “certain Brendan will not enter the race for the U.S. Senate.”

Weiland said he wants to fight for working families and against special interests.

“I just feel I’m interested in fighting the fight on behalf of the state. We’ll see what happens,” he said. - The Daily Republic, 5/9/13

Herseth Sandlin is playing it cool about Weiland's entrance into the race:


With one candidate in and another candidate out a third South Dakota Democrat is renewing her commitment to make a decision on a run for public office by the end of the month.

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin says she will make a decision on her political future in the next few weeks. The news comes after former Tom Daschle staffer Rick Weiland announced Wednesday he is going to seek the Democratic nomination in the 2014 U.S. Senate race.

"Anyone and everyone is welcome to join the race.  I deeply appreciate the support and encouragement I've received from South Dakotans who believe my past experience and record serving the state would make me a strong candidate to win this race,” Herseth Sandlin told KELOLAND News. “Obviously, I have both professional commitments and family obligations to consider.  I have indicated that I will make a decision this month, and I will keep to that commitment." - Keoland, 5/8/13

And Weiland says he's ready for a fight for the nominee:


"It's a hard thing to be completely ready for, but this isn't my first rodeo. I feel like the fact that I've been in it before is a real asset," said Weiland.

The former staff member to former Sen. Tom Daschle says he's running simply because our government is broken.

Weiland said, "I really believe that ordinary, working class families need a strong and effective voice in our government and I'm hoping that I can be that voice."

Knowing that he'll be facing some tough competition. - KDLT News, 5/9/13

Herseth Sandlin is the top choice for DSCC and right now South Dakota Democrats and there's good reasons why:


If Johnson were to retire, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin remains a popular figure in the state and may actually increase Democrats' chances at keeping the race competitive. She has a 52/37 favorability rating with 30% of Republicans holding a positive opinion of her, the kind of crossover appeal that's necessary for a Democrat to win in a state like South Dakota. Herseth Sandlin would lead Noem 48/47 in a rematch of their 2010 contest, and would start out trailing Rounds by a 49/44 margin.

Herseth Sandlin is the strong favorite of Democrats to be their candidate if Johnson decides not to run again. 68% say she would be their choice compared to 16% who prefer US Attorney Brendan Johnson. The younger Johnson currently has 42% name recognition and would trail Noem by 12 points at 49/37 and Rounds by 21 points at 53/32 in hypothetical contests. - PPP, 3/21/13

But of course, Herseth Sandlin has some serious baggage:


Republicans are hoping to use South Dakota's Democratic primary for Senate to fuel the war between the party and its progressive base.

To divide the troops, Republicans are criticizing Democrats for lining up behind conservative former Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin instead of the more liberal U.S. Attorney Brendon Johnson. Although the party is officially staying neutral in the primary to replace Sen. Tim Johnson, Democrats in the state believe the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is clearly backing Herseth-Sandlin over Johnson's son Brendon, who is a favorite of progressive activists.

Seeing a chance for mischief, the National Senatorial Campaign Committee Thursday released a web ad playing up Herseth-Sandlin's conservative political positions on gun control, abortion, and other issues in an effort to sow discord between Democrats and liberal outside organizations.

The minute-long web ad is a play on the NFL draft, showing the "Washington Democrats" draft Herseth-Sandlin over Johnson. "Progressive star Brendan Johnson was their man — what an upset!" one of the announcers says. - BuzzFeed, 5/2/13

But some of that baggage she can overcome:


The first step, said the staffer, is being open about the issue and addressing it upfront, rather than allowing the opponent to make it a "drip-drip" perpetual back-and-forth. "It's better to get your side out and lay out the facts -- all of them -- at the outset," he said. In 2010, Coats sat down for "two or three hours" with an Indianapolis Star reporter, poring over disclosure reports at an Applebee's and explaining any documents that raised eyebrows.

That explanation proved important, the operative said, because the reports "tend to be very broad for legal purposes. They tend to not get into the weeds of what an individual did. It will say they lobbied for the budget, but it won't say what part of the budget they lobbied on. ... It allows the opponent to fill those holes."

In other instances, he said, Coats' name was attached to accounts he never worked on, simply because his reputation could add weight to the client's efforts. He also drew attacks for other clients of the firm, despite the fact he had not represented them. "It's guilt by association," the operative said. "We were able to piece the puzzle together, with Dan's recollection and others -- if you don't cross every 'T' and dot every 'I' ... it gives them an opportunity to call into question everything else."

After the initial disclosures, the staffer said, it's useless to expect the issue to fade into the background, because the opponent won't let that happen. Instead, Coats tried to focus on instances his lobbying had helped produced legislation beneficial for Hoosiers. "We weren't hiding from it. If he was asked a question, he answered it," the operative said. Despite the fact that his responses often took time away from talking about the issues, the campaign determined it was more important to avoid any perception it was dodging questions about lobbying.

In addition to defending Coats' record, the campaign also had to deal with suggestions that he could use a position in the Senate to further his old lobbying interests. Coats' response to that was simple, comparing himself to a Little League parent called on to umpire. That parent, he said, gives his child the tightest strike zone because he knows everyone is watching, suspecting favoritism is at play.

Coats effectively argued that "he's going to want to make sure that there's nothing that could be perceived as giving special favor to anyone," the operative said. While his campaign proved successful, the Coats staffer emphasized that it's not easy to make the jump from K St. to Congress. "The ambiguity is there, and it's not cut and dried, and the only record that exists is these [vague] forms," he said. "It does lend itself to these easy political attacks." - National Journal, 5/3/13

Plus it sounds like she has an issue she may want to run in the general:


She had addressed a Rapid City crowd assembled to raise funds for preschool scholarships through the pilot program Starting Strong Rapid City. That organization, modeled on a similar Sioux Falls program, pairs low-income and at-risk children with high quality preschool programs and pays the tuition using private donations.

The long-term value of such early investments was repeated by Herseth Sandlin, and in messages from Rapid City’s mayor, the school superintendent and former police chief.

Studies have shown that quality preschool leads to better academic performance throughout life, higher earning and less criminal activity, several speakers said.

“These are programs that can change the trajectory of children that might be on a tougher path early on,” Herseth Sandlin told the crowd. “The return on investment that even conservative studies show are $7 for every $1 spent. If we can change the trajectory at 3, 4 or 5, that’s what matters most. This is essential infrastructure.” - The Daily Republic, 5/2/13

It's too early to tell if Weiland is our best substitute for Brendan Johnson but with Weiland's past, he won't be making the primary a cake walk for Herseth Sandlin:


4weiland021501 -- Rick Weiland, D-S.D.
It wouldn’t be the first time Herseth Sandlin faced a Weiland family member in a primary.

Weiland lost to Herseth Sandlin in the 2002 Democratic primary for the state’s at-large House seat, 58 percent to 32 percent. They were running for the open seat of then-Rep. John Thune, a Republican making his first bid for Senate that year.

In 2010, Weiland’s brother Kevin Weiland, a physician, briefly challenged the congresswoman in the primary before opting against it. Kevin said he was motivated by Herseth Sandlin’s vote against the health care overhaul. The congresswoman went on to lose her seat to now-Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., in the general. - Roll Call, 5/9/13

But the big issue in this race is going to be Native American Affairs and Herseth Sandlin has a great record with South Dakota's Native tribes:


For the state’s Democratic Party it will be a major challenge to hold the seat left vacant by the retiring of Sen. Johnson. Former Gov. Rounds is popular on both the left and right and the only two realistic potential democratic horses in the stable are former Rep Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin and current US attorney Brendan Johnson.

Herseth-Sandlin brings to the table a well-established relationship with Native Americans in the state. She lost her seat 2010 in an extremely close race with Noem by 1 point and took some lumps from the state’s conservatives for voting in favor of the stimulus package and a backlash from the state’s liberals for voting against the Affordable Care Act. Despite this she brings several years of experience both in office and as a lobbyist in Washington D.C. to the table. She is also a graduate of Georgetown School of Law and a proven politician who would be a formidable opponent to either a Democratic primary challenger or to an eventual Republican foe. She has not stated publicly her decision. - Indianz, 4/10/13

And she has also believed that Native American Affairs have been issues that deserve more attention:


Who is your political hero/inspiration?
My grandmother had great influence on me. She was secretary of state in the 1970's, and that's when I was born. She showed me the importance of public service, and she was admired by people regardless of their political party.

What's your go-to political blog?
I would probably say the one that I go to the most is the Argus-Leader [a newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D.] political blog. ... I feel old by you asking me that question. It's like asking "So what's the song you most recently downloaded onto your iPod?"

If you weren't working in politics, what would you be doing?
Teaching. Before I had decided to get into politics, I was laying the groundwork to have a career in the law, but that was really to lay the foundation to teach, either at the college level or law school level after my federal clerkships. I love the classroom.

What's the most overlooked issue facing America these days?
Pockets of severe poverty in Indian country that exist in our country that a lot of people aren't aware of. I represent nine sovereign Sioux tribes. In South Dakota, some of the tribes are in the most remote, rural areas of the country. They lack essential infrastructure. Some communities don't even have clean drinking water. We have among the highest rates of teen suicide. ... In terms of the nation's consciousness, I just don't think people are aware of the magnitude of the crisis. It's overwhelming.

Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
I hope to continue to be serving South Dakota in Congress. And, personally, keeping up with the little boy who will just be starting school. - Time Magazine's 40 Under 40, 2010

Emphasis mine.

Native American turnout will be essential for Democrats to hold onto this seat, especially if they're going up against this guy:


For me, his delay in seeking a disaster declaration for aiding the SD reservations devasted by ice-storms and blizzards in Dec. 2009 and Jan. 2010, were especially hard to accept.  After filing the request in March 2010, the Presidential declaration followed and aid was given.  But the delay was tragic. - meralda's diary, 2014 Senate race - SD, 11/29/12
Here's the story meralda is referring to:
Unfortunately, there was a delayed response in the Governors office submitting the disaster declaration, for the Christmas blizzard that immobilized the entire state of South Dakota for several days. FEMA was in the field across South Dakota assessing damages, when the January ice storm and blizzard hit causing a crisis in many areas and devastating Cheyenne River Reservation. - NDN News, 3/10/10
Why would Rounds delay federal disaster relief for South Dakota's Native Americans?

That's what this is about:  The state of South Dakota, under the auspices of the Rounds administration, does not want to spend any extra state money to get federal disaster assistance for the reservations.  

And now that private aid is pouring in, thanks in large part to the efforts of Kossacks over the last two weeks, the governor's office has the perfect excuse not to move forward with the federal disaster process.  Inadvertently, we may just have given him exactly what he wanted:  Time to wait out the weather and public sentiment.  (Not that we had a choice in the matter; lives were at risk.  But the fact that some folks are now in a better position thanks to private efforts should in no way excuse the state of South Dakota from its obligations to its citizens.) - Aji's diary, Why is S.D. Gov. Mike Rounds Denying Federal Aid to Indian Reservations in Crisis?, 2/16/10

Or if Herseth Sandlin has rematch with Rep. Kristi Noem (R. SD-AL):


Republican Rep. Kristi Noem said Thursday she voted against the expansion of the Violence Against Women Act renewed by the House because she thinks efforts should focus on expediting the process for victims to confront their accusers and get justice “not muddy the waters with constitutionally questionable provisions that will likely only delay justice.”

“Additional legal measures only seek to cause additional delays for victims who have already been through too much,” Noem told reporters in a conference call. “If found to be unconstitutional, as some have said, justice could be delayed or worse, abusers could walk free.”

The House vote was 286-138, with 87 Republicans joining 199 Democrats to pass the bill. - Argus Leader, 2/28/13

Plus Rounds isn't even a sure winner yet for his party's nominee because neither Karl Rove or the Tea Party are thrilled about him:
The Senate Conservatives Fund, which claims to have raised $16 million for conservative Senate candidates last year, said its review of Rounds’ record found him to be “too liberal” on issues that include taxes, government bureaucracy and the 2009 stimulus bill.

“We’ve looked at his record and surveyed our members in the state and concluded he’s just too liberal for the job,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. “We cannot support him, but we’ll be looking for a conservative alternative.”

Hoskins declined to reveal how many members his group has in South Dakota, but said they overwhelmingly opposed Rounds. - Argus Leader, 3/27/13

"I've heard other conservatives talking, and would tend to agree, Mr. Rounds has a pretty good spending history— he likes to build government and likes to spend money," said Mike Mueller, president of South Dakota Citizens for Liberty, a Rapid City-based tea party group.

Steele faults Rounds for his budget policies, particularly his final budget proposal, which would have relied on reserves to cover a projected $127 million state deficit. Rounds' successor, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, and the 2011 Legislature instead balanced a budget by cutting spending without using reserves. - Aberdeen News, 4/7/13

And just like Democrats want to make sure they pick the right candidate for this race, so do South Dakota Republicans.  Even the Daily Caller has pointed out the shadiness of Rounds' candidacy:


Four years ago, when he was governor of South Dakota, Mike Rounds pushed for exemptions to a new-open records law that made more government records accessible to the public. Now, as a candidate for Senate, Rounds is taking advantage of those exemptions to keep private a variety of records from his time as governor.

Rounds has denied an open-records request filed by a Democratic group asking for the records, according to a rejection letter sent on May 7, 2013 provided to the The Daily Caller.

The records request was for “all official correspondence, including electronic, from or on behalf of Governor Marion Michael Rounds” during his time in office, “records relating to the Capitol 4th Floor renovation project and Governor’s mansion proposal,” “records relating to DUSEL (Deep Underground Science and Engineering Lab) at Homestake Mine,” “correspondence regarding inmate files,” and “monthly reports from the Office of Executive Management.” - Daily Caller, 5/10/13

And Noem is a real threat to Rounds:


In the first quarter of this year his campaign raised $183,463 and spent $67,654. Some observers dismissed those numbers as small and a signal that perhaps a Rounds candidacy isn’t catching fire.

Regardless, that’s more money than any other U.S. Senate candidate has brought in for the 2014 South Dakota contest.

Right now, there still isn’t a contest. No other Republican has stepped forward. No Democrat has stepped forward.

If someone plans to challenge for the Republican nomination, that person has about 55 weeks before primary day. That’s not enough time to visit each of the 66 counties at a rate of one per week.

As for money, a challenger starts in a $368,951 hole.

That’s how much cash the Rounds campaign had on hand as of the March 31 ending date for the first-quarter report filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Actually the hole is deeper, because the Rounds campaign spent $16,096 in November and December, and another $67,654 from January through March.

A big chunk of the $368,951 of the cash he had remaining on March 31 came from the $269,240 money he raised in the closing weeks of 2012. He was able to bank $253,143 for future use.

So, back to the hypothetical challenger for the Republican nomination, that candidate would need to make up more than $450,000 in the next 55 weeks just to catch up and would still need to match the Rounds campaign dollar for dollar.

The only Republicans who come to mind on the current political scene with that kind of pull are Gov. Dennis Daugaard and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem.

There remains a strong undercurrent of Noem supporters who prefer that she be the Senate candidate. She hasn’t ruled out a Senate candidacy but publicly seems focused on her main job as South Dakota’s only member in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Noem raised $269,844 in the first quarter of 2013, which was more than Rounds, largely because of $93,550 of contributions from political action committees.

She ended the first quarter with $287,214 cash on hand. That was about $80,000 less than the Rounds campaign had. - The Daily Republic, 5/5/13

And Noem might not be the only person Rounds has to worry about:


Meanwhile, another potential candidate, former state senator, Bill Napoli of Rapid City mulls a run of his own.

“I was approached by many people who said, Bill it's time.  It's time for you to represent us in Congress.”  Napoli said.

Like many others, Napoli, says a decision by current Congresswoman Kristi Noem is what everyone is waiting for.

“I honestly believe that if she does not run, it will probably be the biggest political blunder of this century, because the stars are aligned for her to walk into that seat,” Napoli said.  

“You know, she started out a little weak as a candidate, and a little weak in the House, but she's growing into that position, she's growing stronger she's becoming more articulate.”

And a Noem-Herseth Sandlin rematch could be in the works.  If both women decide to run, Napoli says their familiarity from a hard fought congressional race in 2010, combined with large amounts of out of state money tussling over the senate balance of power would make for high grade political theater.

“But this all hinges on Kristi Noem.  If Kristi Noem runs, I'm perfectly satisfied with that, but if she decides she's going to stay in the house, then all cards are on the table and we're going to look at all options.” Napoli said.

Regardless of their final decisions, the interest generated by a Noem, Herseth-Sandlin grudge match makes the prospect of a Mike Rounds, Brendan Johnson race pale by comparison.  With Bill Napoli considering his own run, he says there are a number of reasons why republicans have been lukewarm about a rounds candidacy.

“Here's a guy that just walked out of the governor's chair after 8 years and handed 125-million dollar deficit to Daugaard and said we'll see you, here take care of this.  I honestly believe that they've forgotten who we are and we need to get back to that,” Napoli said. - News Center 1, 4/23/13

It's no secret that a nasty GOP primary would work in our favor but it remains to be seen if a nasty primary between Weiland and Herseth Sandlin will work in the GOP's favor.  This race is a shot at redemption for both Herseth Sandlin and Weiland.  Some times you have to lose some races in order to win one so we'll see if third time's a charm for Weiland.  But even if he doesn't get the nominee, Weiland could still make Herseth Sandlin fight for our support.  I'm willing to give Herseth Sandlin a shot to persuade progressives and hopefully her time out of office has helped her evolve on the issues.  Herseth Sandlin claims she voted against the Affordable Health Care Act because it was watered down but she at least defended her vote for the stimulus package.  With Weiland in the race, she'll have to defend her vote and maybe even make the argument for strengthening the ACA.  We shall have to wait and see.

Originally posted to pdc on Fri May 10, 2013 at 12:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by South Dakota Kos, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and Native American Netroots.


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