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Big Out-State Money from DeMint Boosts Chance of Conservative Challenge to Rounds

As Senator Tim Johnson confirms the open playing field we've been assuming for quite some time, a well-funded out-of-state conservative PAC puts some teeth in the threat to the GOP machine's hope that achievementless former Governor M. Michael Rounds would enjoy a free pass through the 2014 primary to the Republican nomination for Senate:

The Senate Conservatives Fund, which claims to have raised $16 million for conservative Senate candidates in 2012, says its review of Rounds’ record found him to be “too liberal” on issues including taxes, government bureaucracy and the 2009 stimulus bill.

"We’re 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" [David Montgomery, "National Conservative Group Blasts Rounds," Political Smokeout, 2013.03.26].

The Senate Conservatives Fund is the outfit retired South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint founded to help elect folks like Marc Rubio (FL), Ron Johnson (WI), Jeff Flake (AZ), Ted Cruz (TX), and Rand Paul (KY).

Pat Powers tries to wish away this threat to a Rounds coronation by dismissing DeMint's group as not caring about South Dakota Republicans. One might read that they are not paying enough attention to South Dakota politics in their statement that they don't know yet if Rep. Kristi Noem is someone they can support... but one might also read that they are simply waiting to hear if Rep. Noem is willing to cowgirl up and take on a strong member of her own party or if she'll decide that her safest route to building her own celebrity and power is to hang on to her House seat and angle for a Palinesque VP nomination in 2016.

More likely, DeMint's group knows that Rep. Noem is as guilty of supporting the stimulus and other self-serving big government spending (farm subsidies, crop insurance, pine beetle funding, the VA in Hot Springs...) as Rounds. They know she's just a climber, not a real conservative. But they also know that the other folks who might raise the true conservative anti-RINO banner in South Dakota—e.g., Gordon Howie, Bill Napoli—are too radical to pass muster with a statewide electorate.

Then again, if they can get Rand Paul elected... hmmm... has Stace Nelson's phone rung yet?

A primary's coming to South Dakota, and if Jim DeMint is investing, it could be a heck of a show.


  1. mike 2013.03.27

    If Stace Nelson were to run I would think that was at least credible. Noem is such a phony when it comes to being a conservative. I'm glad you pointed that out. (I'm not one of those people who is all about Stace but I know he tries his best to be as conservative as possible.)

  2. Owen Reitzel 2013.03.27

    Hopefully the people of South Dakota won't buy the far-rights propoganda.
    The democrats have to stand up now and fight for what's right and make sure the seat remains Democratic.
    We can't let the Senate fall into conservative hands or our this country is in big-time trouble

  3. mike 2013.03.27

    The groups statement said when they surveyed their members in the state. Who are those people? Gordon Howie? Who in this state would belong to this group?

  4. Rorschach 2013.03.27

    What they mean when they say they don't know if Noem is someone they can support, is that she hasn't come knocking on their door to ingratiate herself to them yet. They are inviting her to do so.

    If this group can find a conservative in this Republican state who wants to serve in the US Senate, you bet they will support that person with big funding. This will be a marquee race for that group just as the Rubio/Crist primary was. There must be an ambitious conservative somewhere around here, isn't there?

    With the backing of this group Rep. Noem could beat Rounds in a primary, but she'd have to go all-in conservative attack dog. She's good at the attack dog part, we know. But she's always been more leadership oriented than conservative true believer. In the latter category, Stace Nelson with his take no prisoners, tell it like it is style is the best candidate to take on smiling Marion.

  5. Mark 2013.03.27

    R: What's your percentage estimate on a Rounds-Noem contest? Rounds-Nelson?

  6. Brett 2013.03.27

    The PPP poll from last week had Rounds and Noem at almost the same favorability (51% favorable, 34% unfavorable, 15% unknown for Rounds; 49%/42%/10% for Noem). Rounds generally polled better in all the match-ups, but the Rounds-Noem primary polling showed Rounds 43%/Noem 39% and 17% undecided.

    Obviously this far out from the election we can't say much with certainty, but that is a very close race and winnable for Noem, especially if conservative groups start dropping money into the race. Noem's actual policy preferences matter much less than the perception of her as more conservative and her more confrontational style of politics, which is often associated with conservatism.

  7. Charlie Johnson 2013.03.27

    Great looks, saddle, and a horse is a deadly combination!

  8. Rorschach 2013.03.27

    Mark, estimates of candidate vote percentages in hypothetical match ups, even those from legitimate polling firms, aren't worth the paper they are printed on (if in fact they're printed on paper) this far out from the election. Such estimates would not rise above the level of rank speculation. There are too many variables that would come into play in a race, many of them unknown right now. Either candidate could win.

  9. G-Man 2013.03.27

    Despite the support he enjoyed in 2002, I think Mike Rounds is finding out that running for the United States Senate is not like running for Governor of South Dakota. His "nice guy" game plan that worked for him then will not work this time.

  10. Mark 2013.03.27

    I quite agree, Rorschach. Just trying to gauge (from afar) just what's going on right now. At least one SD blogger is implying there are high odds of a Dem. primary and virtually no chance of a GOP primary - or at least one with a genuine contest/

  11. Steve O'Brien 2013.03.27

    G-man, I have to agree. Rounds "won" the primary by not getting involved while the two frontrunners destroyed each other (themselves) - then once he got the R in front of his name, the rest took care of itself. SD has not really seen Rounds challenged, and that will reveal (for good or bad) what was never scrutinized before.

  12. Jana 2013.03.27

    Steve, you bring up a good point. I think that there is a lot more opposition research and money that goes into Senate campaigns.

    I wonder if any of his friends are getting nervous...

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.27

    Steve O'Brien gets me wondering: has Rounds ever been firing in a real political fire fight? Did he face any tough campaigns prior to his gub run?

  14. Douglas Wiken 2013.03.27

    That GOP primary just proved that Republicans have no sense of humor.

    Rounds building a house a few inches above the Missouri River and then attacking the Corps of Engineers for releasing about 1/5 of the possible release as causing his problems is a good indicator of his minimal intelligence and ethics.

  15. mike 2013.03.27

    You guys have it all wrong. It doesn't matter if Rounds won that campaign in 2002 because the other guys were stupid. He won and spent 8 years as Governor with a high approval rating. The voters have an opinion of him. Whatever the reason he won in 2002 doesn't matter anymore because he's only built on that. He's not the same guy. Now he's got the image, money and machine.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.28

    ...and that machine is equipped for a real fight, against another machine with money like DeMint's?

    Douglas: shall we commission some ads featuring Rounds in a lifeboat?

  17. Nick Nemec 2013.03.28

    Cory, the answer your question is no. Rounds was a Republican state senator from Pierre. He has never faced a tough race, an open US Senate race is a horse of a different color. Strap on your seat belts and get out your noise canceling headphones, tons of outside money are about to be dumped into TV stations around the state. A US Senate race in SD is a bargain at any price compared to one in California.

  18. Douglas Wiken 2013.03.28

    I was thinking Rounds in SCUBA gear in his living room under water or shaking his fist at the roaring water coming out of the dam.

    Talk to librarians about Rounds. He converted library space into office space to make room for sycophants and relatives. Dispersed valuable collections all over SD.

    Rounds has a record that does not go well with his smile.

  19. mike 2013.03.28

    I still say the 2002 primary was a tough race and he handled it great. Give him credit for a great strategy and understanding the situation.

  20. mike 2013.03.28

    Mike's first race for state senate against Jaquie Kelley was close. 4790 - 4326. Kelley was the incumbent Democrat who had defeated Homer Harding in 1988 election (Harding had been state senator since the early 70's). Mike Rounds challenged Kelley in 1990 and that is where it all began.

  21. Rorschach 2013.03.28

    Mike Rounds definitely had his 2002 primary well in hand all throughout. He understood that his opponents were tearing each other up, and he understood that such things between 2 candidates don't work when there is a third credible choice. Besides watching his opponents beat each other to a pulp, he had his own campaign plan and he carried it out well.

    Jacquie Kelley's election over Homer Harding had little to do with her own popularity, but was a referendum on Homer. I can't remember what he did to wear out his welcome, but the sense was it was time to replace him - and Kelley was the alternative. The fundamentals of that district were Republican then just as they are now.

    But the whole state of SD is fundamentally Republican in statewide races, so if Rounds is the general election candidate he starts out with a lead.

  22. mike 2013.03.28

    I'm one of those Republicans who will vote for Rounds but not Noem again. I don't see what she brings to the table.

  23. mike 2013.03.28

    Daugaard's support of Rounds will go a long way in helping Rounds lock up large donors. Getting Rounds and Daugaard is like a 2 for 1 combo deal.

    I don't think most large donors will sit and wait for Noem.

  24. grudznick 2013.03.28

    Mr. Wiken, should not valuable collections be dispersed all over the state so many people can enjoy them? As to librarians, I could tell you about librarians but I think most of you already know. Plus, their union is not a huge voting bloc.

  25. Douglas Wiken 2013.03.28

    Yah, Grudzy, Reminds me of an EARL cartoon. Riding horses past an outhouse with a satellite dish, saying," I don't think people read as much as they used to."

  26. grudznick 2013.03.28

    When TEOTWAWKI comes, Mr. Wiken, will you be pounding on the door of my west river shelter with no satellite dish or Sibby's east river shelter with a CB antenna?

  27. Brett 2013.03.28

    Mike--Rounds may well be making inroads with a lot of big donors already, but that's what makes that development that Cory is writing about important. If DeMint's group and others like it decide to get involved on Noem's behalf, she'll have plenty of money too. And the polling already shows that she is more than popular enough among the Republcan electorate to be a more than credible threat for the nomination.

  28. Kal Lis 2013.03.28

    I'm not going to disagree that Noem is threat.

    But if the SCF backs Napoli or Stace Nelson or some of the others on the far right, Karl Rove's Conservative Victory PAC will send in some cash to buy ads to help Rounds. If that happens, we'll all be having nostalgia for Preparation H ads.

  29. Nick Nemec 2013.03.29

    Preparation H ads and Republican primary ads target the same demographic.

  30. Kal Lis 2013.03.29

    One ad is usually more tastefully done

  31. Mark 2013.03.29


  32. mike 2013.03.29

    That is great Larry! It shows how pathetic she is and that she's just talk.

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