Nine million dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to. Republican candidate Mike Rounds jumped into South Dakota's Senate race almost two years ago and bragged that he'd raise nine million dollars to finance a top-notch campaign. Two months before the election, the latest KSFY-KOTA-Aberdeen American News poll shows that all that bluster has gotten Rounds less than 40% of the vote:

  • Mike Rounds: 39%
  • Rick Weiland: 28%
  • Larry Pressler: 25%
  • Gordon Howie: 3%
  • undecided: 5%

Jeepers, Mike: if your votes-per-dollar count doesn't improve, you're going to come out of this election looking like Annette Bosworth.

In this sample of over 500 likely voters, called September 3–7, a majority said they want someone other than Rounds to be their next Senator. The trick now is to get them to agree on an alternative.

This poll marks the first straight affirmation of Pressler pal Ted Muenster's February assertion that the Republican-turned-Independent Pressler could break 20%. This poll also gets me to roll back my earlier hypothesis that Pressler would hurt Rounds at the polls more than Weiland. Consider the results the KSFY poll finds if Pressler were not on the ballot:

  • Rounds: 44%
  • Weiland: 42%
  • Howie/undecided: 14%

Take Pressler out, and you get a statistical dead heat between a well-financed and well-recognized former two-term governor and a supposedly awful, supposedly ultra-liberal Democrat. Pressler isn't splitting the liberal vote; he's splitting the "Mike Rounds sucks" vote.

I will not presume to suggest that Team Weiland should try to get Pressler to drop out of the race and endorse the Democrat. Pressler is campaigning with total seriousness. He just announced a rigorous campaign trip that, after tonight's debate on KSFY (to be broadcast live on C-SPAN2, available online!), takes him to the following venues:

  1. Friday: debate at United Tribes Technical College in Rapid City;
  2. Saturday: indy forum at Rapid City Public Library
  3. Sunday: working the streets in Deadwood and Lead
  4. Monday: Bison, McIntosh, and McLaughlin
  5. Tuesday: Mobridge and Aberdeen
  6. Wednesday: candidates' forum at the National Association of Retired Federal Employees at the Aberdeen Ramkota, followed by a visit with Sisseton-Wahpeton tribal leaders in Roberts County, then Milbank.

Pressler isn't going to quit, and we Democrats shouldn't waste our breath trying to get him to quit. Nor should we even consider the idea of surrendering to the Independent (even though that may be working in Kansas, where the withdrawing Democrat has helped Independent Greg Orman take a slim lead over incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts).

Team Weiland thus faces this needle-threading: how to convince Weiland-leaners in the Pressler camp that Pressler isn't so hot while leaving the Rounds-leaners in the Pressler camp to their own devices? Route #1, suggested by a friend of the blog, is to remind them that Pressler may not be Rounds, but he may well be Reagan. The Reagan era was Pressler's heyday. That's the comfortable nostalgia factor that makes certain Republicans willing to throw sleazy salesman Rounds overboard. But if we reminds change-minded voters that Reagan got us into the hallelujah-corporations! mess that Democrats are trying to fix, we can perhaps sour that nostalgia among the half of Pressler voters Weiland needs to win.

Add that strategy to the pounding Rounds is taking on EB-5, with only desperate and unsubstantive responses (are you sure you want to skip the KSFY and UTTC debates, Mike?), and you have a recipe for a depressed Rounds turnout and a strong anti-Rounds majority sending someone other than a Republican to represent South Dakota in the U.S. Senate.