Skip to main content

I'm working on a much bigger diary on this race.  An analysis about why the press would love to see a Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D. SD) vs. Kristi Noem (R. SD) rematch next year.  But today I will focus on former Governor Mike Rounds (R. SD), the only declared candidate running for retiring Senator Tim Johnson's (D. SD) seat.  

With Johnson retiring, the GOP is very giddy because they have a chance to pick up this seat and possibly win the Senate next year:

The retirement of South Dakota’s Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson also creates a vacancy in a heavily Republican state. Republican candidates are likely to be either former Gov. Mike Rounds or at-large Rep. Kristi Noem. The Democratic nominee will probably be Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the three-term at-large former congresswoman Noem beat in 2010. Before Johnson retired, Public Policy Polling had Rounds 11 points ahead of him and 5 up on Sandlin. Noem was 4 points ahead of Johnson and 1 behind Sandlin. We all need to remember how at-large Congressman Rick Berg managed to mess up his shot at the Senate in North Dakota last year, costing the Republicans an expected pickup; we can’t take anything for granted, but South Dakota looks good for the GOP at this time. - Dick Morris, The Hill, 4/2/13
Before becoming Governor, Rounds co-founded the insurance agency, Fischer, Rounds & Associates:

Fischer, Rounds & Associates, Inc. is a member of an elite group of independent insurance agencies that have been chosen to be a part of the “Best Practices” Study Group.

The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) initiated the study group in 1993 as the foundation for efforts to improve agency performance. The annual survey documents the business practices and urges others to adopt similar practices. More than 1,200 independent agencies throughout the U.S. are nominated to take part in the annual study, but only 224 agencies qualify for the honor.

Fischer, Rounds & Associates, Inc. had to be among the 35-40 top-performing agencies in the nation in order to be named a best practice agency.

Rounds then went onto win a seat in the South Dakota State Senate in 1990 and served as State Senate Majority Leader for six years.  Here's a little background on Rounds' record as governor:

When Rounds ran for governor in 2002, he was a late entrant. Attorney General Mark Barnett and former Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby were already in as Republican candidates, and seen as front-runners.

Brown said Barnett and Kirby engaged in negative campaigning against each other while Rounds stayed outside the fray. He got 44 percent in the primary.

"He came out like a knight in shining armor," Brown said.

As a legislator and governor, Rounds excelled in balancing the state's budget without raising taxes by keeping an eye on spending, Brown said.

Rounds also gained national attention in 2005 for his use of the state aircraft on personal and political business and his signing of legislation in 2006 to ban most abortions in South Dakota. It later was overturned.

South Dakota Democratic Party Executive Director Ben Nesselhuf said the governor was more show than substance.

"He was great at showing up at ribbon-cuttings," said Nesselhuf, a former Democratic state legislator. "I think he made it to every one in the state."As far as providing a vision or leadership to the state, that was really where he was lacking. It kind of became a joke around the Capitol that he was governor to get his name on the door, and that was about it."

Nesselhuf said education got minimal funding and wages languished during Rounds’ tenure.

“It was just a very stagnant eight years,” he said. - Sioux City Journal, 3/23/13

But not everyone is sold on the former Governor being the GOP nominee:

Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds speaks to a crowd Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, in Pierre, S.D., as he announces that will run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.  (AP Photo/Chet Brokaw)
National and local conservative activists are up in arms because former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R), a leading contender in the state's open U.S. Senate race next year, declined to give total assurances that he won't raise taxes if he makes it to Capitol Hill.

A story published Sunday in the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D. quoted a number of right-wing leaders who expressed misgivings about the former governor's refusal to sign an anti-tax pledge, as well as his spending record while in office.

Rounds told the Argus Leader that pledges lead to bad governance. - TPM, 4/8/13

That's right, Karl Rove and the Tea Party both agree that Rounds is not their ideal conservative candidate:

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

Senator John Thune (R. SD) and potential Rounds primary opponent, Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R. SD-AL) have both signed Norquist's pledge.  Rounds refusal to sign Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge isn't the only beef Rove's group has with Rounds:


Republicans in South Dakota have a right to know that Mike Rounds:

Expanded state bureaucracy by 1,500 employees
Supported higher cigarette, alcohol, and telephone taxes
Supported higher Internet taxes
Supported Medicare Part D prescription drug entitlement
Supported the TARP bailout program for Wall Street banks
Supported Obama's "stimulus" spending
Supported the fiscal cliff deal, raising taxes on 80% of Americans
Refuses to rule out raising federal taxes in the future - Senate Conservatives Fund, 3/26/13

The South Dakota Tea Party didn't have anything nice to say about him either:

"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

Noem, along with State Senator Larry Rhoden, former State Senator Bill Napoli and former Lt. Governor Steve "Flesh Eating Zombies" Kirby, have all been mentioned as potential primary challengers and could lead to a nasty, crowded primary.  Will Rounds take this a sign to start shifting even further right?  Don't count on it:

Rounds said he expects a primary and isn't going to change what he calls a pragmatic approach to lawmaking. Rounds said he doesn't plan on voting to raise taxes if elected to the Senate, but he won't promise not to do it.

"While we may know how we would feel about a particular issue right now, when things change, when circumstances change, a good legislator or congressperson should have the ability to reconsider their own position on an issue," Rounds said. - Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, 4/7/13

Yeah, good luck with that.  Rounds thinks he doesn't have to shift further to the right to win the nominee because of two factors.  The first one is Governor Dennis Daugaard (R. SD) is helping him buy Johnson's seat:  

Rob Skjonsberg, Mike Rounds crony
Rob Skjonsberg, Mike Rounds Crony (Right)

PIERRE — Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Thursday appointed an associate of former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds’ to a board that awards state economic development loans, a move the state’s top Democratic Party official called a blatant effort to help Rounds’ campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Daugaard, a Republican, appointed Rob Skjonsberg, of Pierre, to the state Board of Economic Development. Skjonsberg worked eight years in the banking industry before becoming Rounds’ chief of staff in the governor’s office in 2003. He later worked at POET, an ethanol producer, and is currently chief of staff at Rounds’ real estate and insurance company in Pierre. Skjonsberg also is a partner in a political consulting firm that is helping Rounds’ campaign for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who has said he will announce later whether he will seek re-election. - The Daily Republic, 1/4/13

Rob Skjonsberg was Rounds former chief of staff at Fischer-Rounds & Associates and was Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at POET, the biggest ethanol producer in South Dakota so the ethanol industry has a lot at stake here.  The other factor working in Rounds' favor is Super PAC cash:
Rounds might very well owe his political career to the state's loose campaign finance regulations.

He benefited from large PAC contributions as a fledgling gubernatorial candidate in 2002. Rapid City lawmaker and philanthropist Stan Adelstein funneled $60,000 to Rounds' campaign via two contributions from the Building Rapid City PAC, which was almost entirely funded by Adelstein. Of that $60,000, $25,000 came at a critical point late in a three-way primary race when Rounds was gaining momentum but running out of money.

Candidate Rounds also received more than $200,000 in 2002 in two separate contributions from Adelstein's A Better South Dakota PAC. While that PAC was organized by Adelstein, it was funded by a series of $5,000 contributions from several individuals.

Adelstein's fortune hasn't reached the heights of Sanford's, but he has been actively involved in South Dakota politics on both sides of the aisle since taking over the family construction business as a young man in the 1950s.

Rounds won a Cinderella victory in that three-way GOP primary in 2002, and went on to easily win the general election and serve two terms as a popular governor, from 2003 through 2010. - The Center For Public Integrity, 10/24/12

So Rounds is the Mitt Romney in this race.  A wealthy businessman and former governor with top connections and unlimited Super PAC funding.  But is that really enough to both win the primary and the general election?  That we'll have to wait and see when the primary comes around but it also looks like Rounds is trying to buy the Senate race and keep the GOP establishment happy which may backfire.  But who will challenge Rounds?  Realistically, Kristi Noem's the best pick:

As a mother, rancher, and small business owner who has proven to be a prominent advocate for economic development in Indian country, Congresswoman Noem is the most viable substitute for Rounds on the right. A champion of House Resolution 2355, which reaffirms the self-autonomy of businesses on tribal territories outside the jurisdictional scope of the National Labor Relations Board, she has also suggested the establishment of a permanent Office of Tribal Relations in the Department of Agriculture. Earlier this month, she offered an amendment to the SKILLS Act guaranteeing funding for Native American workforce grants that won passage. In the 2012 iteration of VAWA, she introduced language to ensure that vulnerable indigenous women could petition a federal court either individually or through their respective nations for restraining orders.

Because the victor of the Republican primary next summer will likely stand auspicious odds at flipping the seat, South Dakotans and constituencies across the country need Noem—a demonstrated pragmatist—in the hunt. No one can afford the alternative. - Indian Country, 4/4/13

Interesting that any Native American press would think Noem challenging Rounds would be a good idea, especially since she was one of 27 Republicans to vote twice against the Violence Against Women Act:

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

Then again, Rounds also has a terrible track record with South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation:
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

Native American affairs won't play a role in the GOP primary but they will play a role in the general election.  That might be one of the main reasons Noem would be in a very tight rematch race against former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D. SD-AL):

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. - PPP, 3/21/13
But of course this all depends if Herseth Sandlin or if Johnson's son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson (D), decide to get into the race.  But the fact that neither Karl Rove's group or the Tea Party are completely sold on Mike Rounds shows that his chance to secure the GOP nominee is no sure thing.  Noem refuses to rule out challenging Rounds and has signed Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge and she's proven to excite the GOP base more than Rounds and an excited base is key to winning in a midterm election.  Plus Noem may have another key constituency that could help her beat Rounds:

And Noem may also have another key constituency that could help her pull off a victory in the primary:

U.S. Rep Kristi Noem, R-S.D., was awarded one of the political world's lesser-known honors last week: the "wheat advocate award."

Noem was one of 12 congressional leaders handed the award this year by the National Association of Wheat Growers. The association said it was honoring Noem for her effort to try to pass a farm bill, a comprehensive piece of legislation that is usually passed every five years and affects many issues, from farming subsidies to food safety.

“I’m truly humbled to receive this award, and I continue to be proud of the wheat industry we have in South Dakota,” Noem said in a prepared statement. - Rapid City Journal, 3/22/13

Ironically, Noem is also the favorite of outside Super PAC money and if she challenges Rounds, this could very well be a very expensive primary:

CASTLEWOOD, SD- August 10: Kristi Noem on the family ranch... Kristi Noem, a member of the South Dakota House of Representatives, is the Republican nominee for South Dakota's At Large Congressional seat running against incumbent Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin,Tuesday August 10, 2010.  (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)    StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on  Tue Aug 17 16:12:10 2010
If money is any indication, the hottest Republican House candidate in the country is Kristi Noem. The 38-year-old rancher has raised more campaign cash than any Republican house challenger in the country.

Noem has raised $1.1 million over the past three months, about twice as much as her opponent, Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD). And that money will go a long way: South Dakota's media market is one of the least expensive in the country.

Herseth-Sandlin has never faced a challenger like Kristi Noem. She's a rancher, a mother of three, and a staunch conservative who is running on a platform of slashing federal spending and repealing the new federal health care law. She's also an avid hunter known to hunt elk with a bow and arrow. Her political views and physical appearance have led some to label her "South Dakota's Sarah Palin." - ABC News, 10/12/10

The ball's in Noem's court now.  She has a shot to warm up to both the Tea Party and Karl Rove to give her the backing she needs to secure the GOP nominee.  It's just a matter of time when Noem will make her decision.

Originally posted to pdc on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 12:40 PM PDT.

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


Who do you think the GOP nominee for the 2014 U.S. Senate Race will be?

46%7 votes
40%6 votes
13%2 votes

| 15 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site