Democrat Rick Weiland and Independents Larry Pressler and Gordon Howie spent the final debate of South Dakota's U.S. Senate campaign doing what they should have been doing from Day One of their campaigns: calling Republican Mike Rounds out on his lies and corruption. Rounds offered three main responses:

  1. Blame Obama.
  2. Be a crybaby.
  3. Keep lying.

The first words out of Rounds's mouth were "Barack Obama," followed quickly by "South Dakota Common Sense," "D.C.... dysfunctional," and "ISIS and Ebola." His opening statement also included two blatant lies:

  1. "A vote for any one of my opponents is a vote for President Obama's failed policies."
  2. "My opponents—they think big government is the answer."

Rick Weiland would certainly be more supportive of President Obama's policies than Mike Rounds, though he stated the obvious that "I'm not Obama." Whether Weiland favors "big government" or "smart government" is a diverting rhetorical exercise. To claim that Gordon Howie and even Larry Pressler are big-government Obama liberals is laughable. Howie lit into Rounds's "misleading" claim as characteristic of the entire Rounds campaign and its willinginess to perpetuate statements that Rounds knows aren't true. Howie reminded voters that he proposed legislation to block the Affordable Care Act but that Governor Rounds killed that bill. Pressler said he has a 22-year record of voting against big government. Yet Rounds, without citing examples, kept lodging the same bogus claim against all three of his opponents.

Asked about supporting Senator Grassley's call to review the EB-5 visa investment program, Rounds completely avoided the question. He said we should review all federal programs and repeated his comments on ObamaCare and Keystone XL. Weiland said Rounds's evasion on EB-5 showed Rounds refuses to accept responsibility for what happened with EB-5 under his watch in South Dakota. He said Rounds makes up EB-5 job-creation numbers just as he makes up Keystone XL job-creation numbers and lies about Weiland wanting to kill Ellsworth Air Force Base. Gordon Howie jumped in to defend Weiland, saying Rounds knows Weiland doesn't want to kill Ellsworth. Howie then branded Rounds's EB-5 response as an example of "professional deceit." Pressler responded to Rounds's evasion by stunningly asking Rounds why he thinks Richard Benda killed himself and why the autopsy report as been sealed.

In response to that pummeling, Rounds kept evading. He gave no direct rebuttal; he only whined that his opponents were throwing "trash talk" and "innuendo" and (don't even try to restrain your laughter) "avoiding real issues." Weiland and Pressler both leapt on the question of issues. Weiland noted that Rounds spent most of the campaign avoiding debates and forums where the other candidates did talk about issues. Pressler agreed with Weiland that Rounds has skipped opportunities to talk policy and said he resents Rounds's suggestion that Pressler avoids real issues. (Pressler's resentment is justified, given that Pressler wonked out on specific legislation all night, as he has done in every debate).

Rounds's most laughable lie came in the discussion of Keystone XL. KELO loaded the question, framing it around the 60% approval rate Keystone gets from South Dakota voters and thus daring candidates to challenge the majority. Weiland boldly took the challenge, offering his bold and accurate three-point critique:

  1. Rounds's job numbers (inflated last night to 42,000) are bogus: Keystone XL will create 1,350 temp jobs and 35 permanent jobs.
  2. Keystone XL will send oil to the Gulf and overseas rather than boosting our energy independence.
  3. Rounds and Big Oil have lost those first two arguments, so now they're making up a new argument about pipelining Bakken oil to free rail cars for grain shipments, when that won't happen either, since the Bakken producers want to send their oil east for domestic refining and consumption, not south to the Gulf for export.

Pressler added that Rounds's KXL-Bakken-rail claim is false because the shippers can't mix Canadian tar sands oil and North Dakota crude.

Rounds responded that 10% of Keystone XL is reserved for carrying Bakken oil. How does he know this? The folks at TransCanada told him so, he said, and they wouldn't say that if it weren't true.

As Rick Weiland said during the EB-5 discussion, we just saw the real Mike Rounds. If a big corporation tells you something, it must be true.

Mike Rounds hid behind the bogeyman he makes of Barack Obama. He cried that his opponents are talking trash instead of addressing the specific questions and rebuttals they offered to his claims. And when pressed on his lies, he repeated them and told bigger lies.

Rick, Larry, Gordon, I can't tell which of you won last night. But you all three, working together, definitely beat Mike Rounds in the debate. If voters hear the messages you sent last night, you will beat Mike Rounds and his whining dodging and deceit at the polls. Which of you will win the election? Don't sweat that question. Beat Mike, and let the chips fall where they may.

56 comments

On October 15, Gary Coe of Lead filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to create Many True Conservatives. Coe sells magic pills of unknown composition. By waiting so late to create his PAC, he can now sell political messages with unknown donors.

Coe, who ran for District 31 House as a radical Tea Party Republican in 2012, is spending his mystery money attacking Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds and boosting Independent Gordon Howie, whose Republican gubernatorial campaign Coe managed in 2010. A reader submits this robocall from Many True Conservatives:

Gary Coe Many True Conservatives robocall 20141029

Hi, this is Gary Coe with Many True Conservatives. We need a real conservative to represent us in the U.S. Senate. Mike Rounds gave us the EB-5 scandals, higher taxes, the largest budget deficit in South Dakota history, and now he refuses to take the no-increase-in-tax pledge. No wonder the Senate Conservative Fund refused to endorse Mike Rounds.

We have a real choice this election. Gordon Howie is pro-life, pro-gun, and the Tea Party leader taxpayers can trust. Please cast your vote for Gordon Howie the real conservative. Paid for by Many True Conservatives, 605-559-2345 [links mine; Gary Coe, Many True Conservatives Super PAC robocall, 2014.10.29].

I first thought I heard MiniTrue, but Coe isn't peddling Newspeak. Coe, like Howie, would bring us an economic and cultural train wreck if we gave them the keys to the Democracy Maserati, but when it comes to Mike Rounds, their conservative critique is pretty accurate.

But it would be nice to know who's footing the bill for Coe's attacks and just what percent of Rounds's voters those attacks will pull away.

34 comments

Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, Mike Rounds, and Gordon Howie "debated" on South Dakota Public Broadcasting last night to prove who ought to be South Dakota's next Senator. Here are the most important observations to come from the debate:

  1. Gordon Howie wins on points. He challenged Mike Rounds directly on EB-5, saying the former governor had brought the scandal upon himself by skipping debates and giving false information. He challenged Rounds to testify under oath on EB-5. Howie blasted Rounds for doubling the state budget and leaving a $127-million structural deficit. And Rounds ignored those points. Ignoring points usually means you lose a debate.
  2. Gordon Howie railed against "corruption" and "crony capitalism," yet he used the public airwaves to plug a private company. He joked that all the campaign ads were crowding out Taco John's commercials. Hmm... is Gordon making a deal for his own Schiefferesque cavalry cash from a conservative businessman and USD grad?
  3. Mike Rounds implied EB-5 is good, because it's a program just like Canada has (well, had: Canada decided the visa investment program doesn't pay off and canceled it this year). By that logic, Rounds should embrace single-payer health insurance.
  4. Weiland felt too restrained, especially at the beginnings of his responses, as if he was overplaying the humble country-boy image. I understand the psychology at play, but gentle aw-shucksery will not defeat the Rounds machine. Weiland did build fire in each of his answers, but beating Rounds requires pushing Rounds off his script and forcing him to answer questions. (Remember: Rounds has proven really bad at answering questions!) Blend Weiland's policy and Howie's relentless attack last night, and you keep Mike Rounds out of the Senate.
  5. Weiland does get points for blowing raspberries at Senator Harry Reid. Weiland said he will not vote for Harry Reid or Republican Senator Mitch McConnell for majority leader, saying both men have led the Senate into dysfunction. He cleverly challenged Rounds to make the same pledge. Rounds muttered about Reid but didn't mention McConnell.
  6. Weiland also gets points for common sense solutions. Weiland advocated Senator Tom Harkin's bill to eliminate the income cap on Social Security tax and get Bill Gates to pay for protecting Social Security. Rounds called that a $100 billion tax hike on "job creators," which is code for reducing the middle class to serfdom under the wealthy elites backing Rounds.
  7. Speaking of Social Security, Pressler rejected Democratic arguments that he wants to raise the retirement age. Pressler said last night he would leave the retirement age where it is.
  8. Weiland pinned the Ryan budget on Rounds, saying Rounds backs the GOP House's intentions to gut Head Start, Pell Grants, and other programs that benefit the middle class. Weiland said Rounds would voucherize Medicare so old folks could take the Ryan coupons to buy insurance at Fischer Rounds. Rounds repeated his feeble dodge that he "admires" Paul Ryan's fiscal efforts but has never said he supports the Ryan budget... which is code for, "You have no idea what I'll do to you in office, and I don't have to tell you."
  9. Weiland also nicely flipped the Rounds argument that an obstructionist Senate is to blame for our woes. Weiland said we could have immigration reform now, with more secure borders, if Speaker Boehner would just take up the bipartisan bill the Senate passed last year 68-32.
  10. Rounds is now fully on board with Republican fear-mongering. Invoking ISIS and Ebola (thank goodness for one-word threats), Rounds repeated "safety and security" as much as he repeated "South Dakota common sense." He also said we should impose a travel ban to stop Ebola "right now."
  11. Pressler continues to look every bit the capable statesman alongside his younger, less experienced counterparts. He recites the same points in every debate—Independent caucus, obsolete bases in Italy, three-point immigration plan—but that's a focused candidate staying on message. And he keeps coming up with new images for his campaign. He's gone from naked rabbit to last night's David up against twelve goliaths (Rounds, Weiland, and PACs), with a slingshot of idealism and friendship (translation: paint your own signs, because Harriet and I can't afford them!). Pressler still talks policy and turns phrases as effectively as anyone else in the campaign.
47 comments

The Tea Party Express shed credibility this week by throwing a life preserver to failing and only faintly Tea-flavored Republican candidate Mike Rounds. Reasonable Republican John Tsitrian finds that endorsement laughable and incompatible with good government for South Dakota. Arch-conservative Bob Ellis finds it horrible... or should I say whore-able?

...the Tea Party Express, a national Tea Party group, has decided to whore itself out, selling its values and virtue in a quest for a seat at the table of power [Bob Ellis, "Tea Party Express Whores Itself to RINO Establishment," American Clarion, 2014.10.15].

Ellis is incensed (Ellis is always incensed, but this time he's right) that anyone could mistake Mike Rounds for Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or Sarah Palin or whoever represents this amorphous group of do-nothing, tax-nobody anarcho-conservatives:

The guy who kicked the can of a $127 million structural deficit down the road for his successor Dennis Daugaard and the legislature to deal with…is “not something Mike Rounds is going to do”? Give me a break!

The guy who lacked the guts to sign South Dakota’s first attempt to ban abortion in 2004–and instead vetoed it–is “going to confront the problems”? Spare me!

The guy who grew the size of state government, who supports government health care schemes, amnesty, Marxist minimum wage increases and a host of other liberal ideas can be relied on for “getting America back on track”? Please!

According to Mike Rounds record–not his lying rhetoric, but his record–he isn’t even a good Republican, much less a good Tea Party candidate [Ellis, 2014.10.15].

Gordon Howie is the only true Tea Partier in the Senate race and the only one besides Lora Hubbel on South Dakota's statewide ballot. Government by Howie, Hubbel, and Ellis evokes terrifying visions of theocratic tyranny. But if you drink that Tea, that's what you dig, and you cannot in good conscience dig Mike Rounds.

Endorsing Mike Rounds is capitulation. If you really believe the Republican Party is filled with pragmatists, opportunists, and fakers who trade principles for raw power, you don't vote for Mike Rounds just to preserve a Republican majority in the Senate. You vote en masse for Howie. You either win the Senate seat or, if you can't quite beat Weiland or Pressler, you knock the legs out from under the RINO establishment, prove that fakers like Rounds are no longer viable, and set the stage for full-tilt Tea-volution in 2016, when you run Howie for Thune's Senate seat, Bill Napoli for House, and Stacey Victor Nelson for President.

28 comments

Rick Weiland wins more pretty good national press. Bloomberg sends filmmaker Griffin Hammond to shoot this lovely five-and-a-half-minute snapshot of the South Dakota Senate race. The video revolves around the stirring Weiland narrative. On the side, it shows Pressler as the earnest Independent, Howie as the typical Tea Partier, and Rounds, the once frontrunner, as, well, smiley but unexceptional and uninspiring.

"From Peever to Pukwana to Pringle"—that should be the header on every Weiland ad, letter, banner, and bumper sticker.

7 comments
SD Senate race as Corn Palace 2014

Corn Palace as political effigy—imagine the possibilities....

South Dakota's U.S. Senate race has turned into the Corn Palace: so weird, so unlikely, folks from out of state just have to come and look.

Today, that funny-looking corn dome off to the right, Gordon Howie, gets some national press. The apocalypse is nigh.

Bloomberg's David Weigel sat down for coffee with the Independent/Republican rebel in the U.S. Senate race and got this juicy morsel: Howie claims Republicans may be offering him carrots to get out of the race:

"There are high level GOP operatives, in and out of the state, who have tried to negotiate me out of this race," Howie told me. "They approached me as recently as last week."

He would not name the operatives; he would only rephrase what they asked him. "There were no hard offers," he said. "The question was more of a what-if: 'Well, what if you dropped out?' And I said, 'You can take these proposals and throw them in the Missouri river'" [David Weigel, "The Other Guy Ruining the GOP's Chances in South Dakota," Bloomberg, 2014.10.14].

Ah, there's no buying our friend Gordon, especially not when he smells his big break-out opportunity just one EB-5 blog post away:

According to Howie, Republicans in and out of office had been whispering that they supported him but didn't want to come out and say so. They would only come out, he suggested, if and when Rounds imploded.

"The ice is very thin, and shaking," he said. "This was Rounds's race to lose, and he's losing it. If he’s contradicted on the EB-5 story, by a document, just one more time, I think the ice breaks under him" [Weigel, 2014.10.14].

Hmm... one more good blog post with one more document showing one more Mike Rounds lie, and Gordon Howie becomes Senator? Do I dare?

15 comments

Mike Rounds isn't the only person asking to change his answer. South Dakota Republicans are starting to wish they could change their nominee (where have you gone, Larry Rhoden?).

Public Policy Polling finds support for Mike Rounds has dropped to 35%.

35%. 35%. After two years of campaigning, Mike Rounds, the once and supposedly future king, the Nine Million Dollar Man, is at 35%.

And PPP ran this survey (on behalf of Rick Weiland's Democratic campaign, 703 likely voters, margin of error ±3.7 ponits) September 29 and 30, before we learned Rounds told the Legislature a falsehood about being served on EB-5 litigation.

PPP finds Rick Weiland seven points back, at 28%.

Seven points back. Seven points back. Rick Weiland, whom Harry Reid thinks doesn't stand a chance, is just seven points back.

Now it's worth noting that Weiland hasn't moved within the margin of error in PPP's three scans of the electorate this year. Independent Larry Pressler is Rocket Man, jumping from 15% in May and 16% in August to a 24% that no Independent with no money should be getting right now.

Even Independent conservative insurgent Gordon Howie gets good news:

Rounds is losing supporting on the right to Howie. Howie’s doubled his share of the Republican vote over the last month from 6% to 12%, pushing his support to the point where it provides a real threat to Rounds. Rounds has a tepid 62/31 favorability even with GOP voters, reflecting his weak 55% showing in the June primary [Tom Jensen, "Rounds Support Falls to 35% in South Dakota Race," Public Policy Polling, 2014.10.02].

In no normal election should Gordon Howie be ticking upward as the election approaches. But Mike Rounds is botching his candidacy so badly that apparently anything can happen in South Dakota's Senate race.

71 comments

Nielson Brothers Polling reinforces the growing belief that Mike Rounds is far from the bulletproof Senate candidate Republicans thought he would be. Their latest polling data finds that Rounds has dropped four points to 39%. Nielsons' finding joins Public Policy Polling (mid-August) and Survey USA (early September) in finding Rounds unable to break 40%. Even Rounds's own propaganda poll finds him at 41%.

Six out of ten South Dakotans want someone other than Mike Rounds to be Senator. The problem is, they are split on whom to pick. Rick Weiland still comes in second, but like Rounds, he has dropped four points from Nielsons' July poll, to 26%. Surging a monster ten points is Independent Larry Pressler, now at 24%. If two data points made a trend, Pressler could surge over 30% by Election Day... and Mike Rounds faces the embarrassing possibility of defeat at the hands not of a Democrat but a retired Independent with no money.

Nielson asks two important hypotheticals: What would happen if Pressler dropped out, and what would happen if Weiland dropped out. In a sock to the gut to Democrats, it appears Pressler would actually have the better chance of beating Rounds:

Nielson Brothers Polling hypotheticals, U.S. Senate race, September 2014

Graphics from Northern Plains News

Uff da: Pressler may be able to combine nostalgia and freedom of party brand into a threat that no one thought would be credible, let alone a direct threat to Mike Rounds's ascendancy.

By the way, Gordon Howie continues to be statistical noise, winning just 4% support. But in a race that could tighten, maybe it's time for Howie to invite Weiland and Pressler out for a conversation about how to achieve the one goal that unites them: beating Mike Rounds.

23 comments

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