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When former Blue Dog Whip, Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D. SD-AL) decided to pass on running for retiring Senator Tim Johnson's (D. SD) seat.  I can understand why people here would want to write this race off.  It's a red rural state where former Governor Mike Rounds (R. SD) looks like the solid favorite to win this race.  Plus I've heard a few people express their doubts in former Senator Tom Daschle's (D. SD) aide, Rick Weiland's ability to hold this seat for Team Blue.  Especially since Weiland is not Harry Reid or the DSCC's ideal candidate.  I understand the skepticism but I still firmly believe that we should not write off this race just yet.  Yesterday, Senator John Thune (R. SD) let the cat out of the bag that this race isn't as easy of a GOP pick up as it looks on paper:

Republican infighting could hurt Republicans at the ballot box, as well as impeding their legislative agendas once elected, Sen. John Thune warned Wednesday.

But despite his concern about intra-party squabbles, Thune said he’s not going to discourage U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem from challenging former Gov. Mike Rounds in the 2014 U.S. Senate race.

The Republican senator made his comments during a wide-ranging discussion with the Argus Leader editorial board Wednesday afternoon. Discussing both politics and policy, Thune returned repeatedly the subject of infighting.

“When Republicans end up going to war with Republicans, it often leads to Democrats getting elected,” he said.

Rounds is the only declared Republican candidate for South Dakota’s U.S. Senate seat. But Noem has expressed interest in running for the job, along with several other South Dakota Republicans.

Both Rounds and Noem have spoken with Thune about the race.

“I’ve had discussions with (Noem) on various occasions, and I’ve had discussions with former Gov. Rounds on various occasions about the 2014 political landscape,” Thune said. “Obviously, they’re both people who are very accomplished in their own rights and have their own political credentials.”

Thune, who considered running for president in 2012 in addition to his runs for U.S. House and Senate, said he wasn’t telling Noem whether to enter the race.

“I always tell people, and I told them this, that making a decision about whether to run for office or not is a very personal decision,” he said. “I’m not going to be one to tell anybody what I think they ought to do.” - Argus Leader, 5/30/13

I've been following the South Dakota Senate race as it develops.  Thune having to caution South Dakota Republican voters about infighting while not blatantly trying to discourage Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R. SD-AL) from challenging Rounds in the primary to me come off as signs that Republicans are worried about settling for their ideal candidate.  But is Noem really the great conservative hope that the Tea Party is looking for?  Not exactly:

Rep. Kristi Noem has acknowledged she’s considering running against Mike Rounds in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, but some of Rounds’ national enemies are skeptical she’s the “conservative alternative” they want.

Rounds, a former governor who has drawn some fire from the right for refusing to sign a no-tax-increase pledge, has said he expects a primary challenge. Analysts contend Noem would be his most dangerous rival in a GOP primary.

But the Club For Growth, a fiscally conservative group that’s not a fan of Rounds, said Noem’s no better.

“Neither Mike Rounds nor Kristi Noem is the type of candidate we would support,” said Barney Keller, the Club’s communications director. “Neither of them are fiscal conservatives.” - Argus Leader, 5/29/13

Now Noem still has a chance to win over the right-wing PAC money depending on how she votes on the upcoming farm bill:
“The farm bill is a big test,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. “That’s an issue where I’m sure that she is very supportive of the farm program, but it’s been larded up with all these food stamps. What we really need is we need leaders in Washington who are willing to say, ‘I know this issue is very important to my constituents, but this isn’t the right way to legislate.’ ” - Argus Leader, 5/29/13
Now I admit that Rounds is taking the steps needed to run a successful campaign:

The Rounds campaign has retained Dick Wadhams, who managed John Thune's successful campaign to defeat Democrat Tom Daschle in the 2004 Senate race.

Wadhams also was chair of the Colorado Republican Party in 2007-2010 and has managed other U.S. Senate races around the country. - The Republic, 5/24/13

Wadhams helped Thune win in a Presidential Election year in a red state.  Impressive, sure, but take a little bit of a closer look at Wadhams record:

After the Thune race, Wadhams went on to manage then-Sen. George Allen’s unsuccessful re-election bid in Virginia in 2006 before moving to his home state of Colorado to chair the state party. Last cycle, Wadhams briefly managed Clark Durant’s unsuccessful Senate campaign in Michigan. - Roll Call, 5/22/13
And of course there's this:

Wadhams was elected to the Chair of the Colorado Republican Party in March 2007 hoping to stem the losses that party has suffered in the last two elections. In 2008, he was hired by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer to help manage Schaffer's campaign, while continuing to Chair the Colorado Republican Party. He was reelected in 2009 by a strong majority, capturing 310 of the 366 votes cast.[3]

When Dick Wadhams was elected, the Colorado Republican Party was trapped with serious debts from the 2002, 2004, and 2006 elections, totaling over $580,000. The Colorado Republican Party has since paid off all of its debts, mainly due to individual donations.[4]

In November 2008, Bob Schaffer lost to Mark Udall in the campaign to replace Wayne Allard's seat in the United States Senate. In addition, Republican losses across Colorado were widespread, with Colorado voting to elect Barack Obama as President and the Democrats retaining power in both houses of the state legislature, although Republicans were able to add seats in the state legislature.

Dick Wadhams blames the losses on several obstacles including Barack Obama’s charisma, the unpopularity of President George W. Bush and the Wall Street crash, which was blamed on Republicans who had supported deregulation in the name of free enterprise.[4]

Some critics have attacked Dick Wadhams for playing a dual role during the 2008 election by being both the Party Chairman in addition to being Bob Schaffer's campaign manager. However, during the 2008 election, under Wadham's leadership, the Colorado Republican Party was "hailed for its voter turnout" and recognized by the RNC.[5] The state GOP increased its outreach by topping the 2004 effort by more than 95 percent.

So we'll see how he does with the Rounds campaign.  Now Noem would be the strongest primary opponent to go up against Rounds but that doesn't mean she's the only one willing to give Rounds a run for his money:

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

To give you the idea of what type of Republican Rounds is, former Governor and Presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee (R. AR) endorsed Rounds campaign:

“His experience as governor of the great state of South Dakota, dedication to tackling the federal debt, strengthening and honoring our military, border security, as well as his strong support of faith, family, life and freedom – makes my endorsement a great pleasure,” Huckabee said in a statement. - Argus Leader, 5/3/13
Real Tea Party conservatives aren't really a fan of Rounds.  Plus I've pointed to several cases where Rounds has some serious baggage with conservatives, women and Native Americans.  You can read about it here:

Lately Rounds hasn't been in South Dakota.  He went on a trip to Israel:

Rounds and his wife are in the Middle East on what he described as a “packed full” six-day visit to Israel, including both tourism to religious sites and meetings with Israeli political and military leaders.

“I’m hoping to get some better knowledge about just what the situation on the ground is in Israel itself (and) the relationships that are currently being held by the different factions in and around the country itself,” Rounds said.

The trip was the idea of Stan Adelstein, a Jewish state senator and businessman from Rapid City who is one of Rounds’ biggest supporters. Adelstein had urged Rounds to visit Israel for years but said the chance never came up while Rounds was governor. Now that Rounds is in the early stages of a Senate campaign, both of them decided to make the trip.

Adelstein and his wife will accompany the Roundses. Adelstein is paying his own way, while Rounds said his expenses will be a mixture of his own personal money and campaign funds. The trip is unaffiliated with any other groups.

Such a trip could have dual benefits for Rounds, said Brian Goldberg, a political science professor at American Jewish University in Los Angeles. In addition to giving him more understanding about life in Israel, a geopolitically important American ally, building a connection to Israel could have political benefits for Rounds.

While South Dakota’s Jewish community is small, support for Israel is important for many evangelical Christians, Goldberg said.

“It certainly would strengthen any Republican candidate’s credentials with the evangelical base of the Republican Party,” Goldberg said of Rounds’ Israel trip. - Argus Leader, 5/30/13

By the way, here's a little background on Stan Adelstein's relationship with Rounds:
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

Even with his Super PAC cash and Governor Dennis Daguaard (R. SD) in his pocket, someone like Noem or Napoli could paint Rounds as Mitt Romney type candidate who the GOP establishment is trying to push down their throats.  And that attack could work because as PPP showed, Noem excites the GOP base more than Rounds:

South Dakota might be next on the list of states where Republicans have a bruising Senate primary. Our first look at the state for 2014 finds Mike Rounds and Kristi Noem closely locked in a hypothetical contest, with Rounds leading just 43/39. Noem's favorability rating with GOP voters at 71/18 is slightly better than Rounds' 67/17.
Overall voters in the state have a positive opinion of both Rounds (51/34 favorability) and Noem (49/42). They're closely divided in their views about incumbent Tim Johnson with 44% of voters approving of the job he's doing to 45% who disapprove. Rounds leads Johnson 52/41 in a hypothetical match up with Noem leading Johnson 49/45. - PPP, 3/21/13
So yeah, Rounds isn't out of the wilderness just yet and the chance for someone like Noem to move up to a higher position is very tempting.

Now I know Weiland has his baggage, losing two congressional races in both 1996 and 2002.  And I know he's more socially liberal than the average South Dakota Democrat.  Plus he's not afraid to express his support for the Affordable Health Care Act and even make the argument for it on the campaign trail.  But Weiland real has an excellent chance to run a winning populist campaign:

“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

Making Social Security and Medicare key issues in this race could greatly benefit Weiland, plus Daschle has vowed to do everything he can to help Weiland win:
"I am going to do everything I can to help Rick.  I hope you will too," he says in a fundraising email sent to supporters by the campaign on Monday. - The Hill, 5/14/13
So my fellow Kossacks, please don't write this race off just yet.  Weiland is the example of Better Democrats this community is aimed at helping win.  I know we are all looking at Georgia and Kentucky as races to pick up seats and I know we have a lot of seats to fight for.  But don't put all your eggs in one basket just yet.  Weiland's campaign website isn't up yet but you can join his Facebook page here:

Originally posted to pdc on Fri May 31, 2013 at 10:00 AM PDT.

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

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