Could a progressive Democrat really win the U.S. Senate seat in a bright red state that gave Mitt Romney 58% of the vote?
Maybe, because of an unprecedented aligning of the political stars. Democratic South Dakota Senate candidate Rick Weiland is within 6 points of defeating former Republican Governor Mike Rounds. Remarkably, the extremely well-known former Governor Rounds has remained stuck for months at just 40 percent support.
If Weiland can remind moderates and progressives that former GOP U.S. Senator Larry Pressler, who is currently trying to sweet talk non-conservatives, has an extremely conservative voting record, Weiland could win the seat with under 45 percent of the vote. Because independent candidates’ support typically shrinks in the closing days of a campaign, peeling away Pressler’s non-conservative support is certainly within Weiland’s grasp.
In South Dakota? How could that be? There are three primary reasons:
- SEGMENTATION. First, there’s simple electoral math. There are three prominent conservative GOP officeholders on the November ballot — a former GOP state legislator with Tea Party support (Gordon Howie), former GOP Governor (Mike Rounds) and former GOP U.S. Senator (Larry Pressler). That divides South Dakota conservatives in three, which is thrice as nice for the lone Democrat on the ballot.
- SHOE-LEATHER. Second, by all accounts Weiland is running circles around his opponents. In recent months, Rick “Everywhere Man” Weiland became the first candidate in South Dakota history to campaign in all 311 South Dakota towns, many of them multiple times. In a state with only a few hundred thousand voters, those personal connections, and the work ethic they represent, matter. Meanwhile the embattled Rounds has been jetting around the nation raising money from wealthy non-South Dakotans, and staying away from debates, while the long-retired Pressler has kept his nostalgia tour on a relatively leisurely schedule.
- SCANDAL. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is something called EB-5. EB-5 is a federal program that lets wealthy foreign businesspeople cut to the front of the green card line, if they fork over a half million dollars to a local business venture. The “auctioning citizenship” aspect of EB-5 is extremely unpopular in itself, and Rounds administered South Dakota’s version of EB-5 in a way that allowed a Rounds supporter to run the program, hire himself to profit from the program that he was running, and screw up the program in ways that are incompetent at best and criminal at worst. The result: State and federal investigations, a steady stream of news media probing and red hot criticism from politicians of all parties, all aimed at the besieged Rounds.
For Democrats desperate for U.S. Senate electoral wins in a tough political environment, it’s quite possible that this equation could work: Segmentation + Shoe-leather + Scandal = Senate Seat. It could happen, if Weiland is able to raise enough money to get his message out and defend himself down the home stretch.