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Rhoden Beats Nelson to Trigger on GOP Senate Primary: Can He Win?

Chad Haber's plan to eyeball and cuss his wife Annette Bosworth's potential Senate rivals out of the race evidently didn't work. After chatting with Bosworth at his Union Center hacienda Friday, Republican State Senator Larry Rhoden says he's running for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.

The Bosworth-Haber reaction, of course, is an irrelevant distraction compared to the two big questions:

(1) Can Rhoden compete with the M. Michael Rounds money machine?

Rounds has raised more than $1 million for his campaign so far and says he’s going to raise $9 million by November 2014.

That financial threat was on Rhoden’s mind as he considered whether to run.

"When we hear talk about raising millions and millions of dollars for this campaign, that doesn’t scare me," he said [David Montgomery, "Larry Rhoden: 'I Am In' for U.S. Senate," Political Smokeout, 2013.07.08].

Remember, Rounds is talking $9 million for the general. He'll only raise some fraction of that for the primary that is finally on. Rhoden needs to raise only a significant fraction of that fraction to compete, then make the sale by finding the not-so-secret sauce (repeat after me, Larry: "Rounds is a visionless crony capitalist with a crappy budget record!") that will distinguish him from Rounds on June 3, 2014.

(2) Can Rhoden win conservative activists and enough mainstreamers to fight off all comers? The conventional wisdom says you win the GOP primary by driving turnout among the hard-right activists. But we had a primary for Governor four years ago in which the man who focused on capitalizing on that activism, self-christened Tea Party candidate Gordon Howie, came in fourth in a five-man race behind three Republicans who sounded a lot more mainstream than he. Wheezing about a nation in peril to enrapt dozens at Tea Party rallies may set your heart racing, but it doesn't win the GOP primary.

To win the primary, Rhoden needs to peel away a big chunk of the mainstreamers who right now view Rounds as the inevitable nominee. He needs to give them reason to at least hold off on writing those checks to Team Rounds, make Mike miss his Q3 fundraising goals, and make Mike nervous. He needs to get Mike to start throwing those ugly Dick Wadhams punches early (which will be a challenge, because whose Republican dog has Larry Rhoden ever kicked?), then respond, "Whoa, what brought that on? I'm just telling the truth about Rounds's inability to manage the state's books."

Rhoden also needs to keep Stace Nelson out of the Senate race. Better yet, he needs to get Nelson to run for U.S. House. Mike Rounds and Kristi Noem are both empty GOP suits with enchanting fundraising smiles. Played right, a Rhoden-Nelson tandem could juice up voters, making them think they aren't just voting for a man but for a movement, an outsider team twice as likely to shake up the Establishment. If Rhoden and Nelson both fire broadsides about Rounds and Noem being big-money Washington candidates, they just might have a shot.

But Rhoden and Nelson would have to work together to generate that primary synergy, and I haven't heard much Nelsonesque Mugwumpery from the man from Union Center lately. (I've also never heard anyone say "Nelsonesque Mugwumpery"—put that on a t-shirt, and send me the royalties!). If Nelson runs against Rhoden, then it's Munsterman-Knudson 2010 all over again, splitting the underdog vote and leaving Rounds cruising safely to the nomination.

A Rhoden victory will depend significantly on the Benjamins. it may hinge just as much on the Nelson.


  1. Rick 2013.07.08

    Fake candidate. He's in it to split the die-hard conservative vote that hates fat budget Rounds. If he wasn't the obvious patsie positioned by Rounds and Dick Wadhams to split the opposition, it would be instantly obvious he doesn't have the mojo to go big and win. Not ready for prime time and never will be. Small bit player from The Big Empty region of South Dakota.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.07.08

    If Rhoden is a Wadhams decoy, how hard would he have to work to achieve his mission? He does have to make the sale to a good chunk of those die-hards, right? Can he make that sale, or does a real conservative completely shut his fakery out? How much value can Team Rounds get and how value do they need to get from a fake Rhoden candidacy?

  3. Rick 2013.07.08

    Rhoden is positioned to be a competitor, only if another bonfide conservative jumps into the primary. Mark my words, he'll only make as much racket and raise as much money as is necessary to marginalize someone like Nelson who has populist credentials and true conservative voting records.

    I'm 99 percent certain that Wadhams views the GOP primary as the only possible obstacle to winning the Senate seat. His strategy has been to clear the deck early in the campaign to ensure his client's ability to win. Wadhams' handmaiden on DWC has run a campaign of dismission Rick Weiland's candidacy to avoid having to spend millions later to win the general election. So it is with Stace Nelson by recruiting a patsie like Larry Rhoden to marginalize the anti-Rounds real conservative Tea Party electorate in the state GOP.

    This could backfire on Wadhams, but only Stace Nelson can control that.

  4. mike 2013.07.09

    Where is Rhoden going to get the money?

    He's a fine candidate but he's not going to be competitive against Rounds.

  5. joeboo 2013.07.09

    I think the two biggest names to look at is John Thune and Kristi Noem. Both have implied they will not endorse, but both are fairly close with Larry Rhoden, Kristi when she was in the House and Larry and John go back a ways, and LArry's son interned for John in D.C.

    The next thing too look at is whether or not he has a big out of state group behind him. A group that can bring in some top level advisers and some money.

    If John Thune or Kristi Noem endorses it gives major credibility right away, but I'd be surprised if either do endorse.

  6. Roger Elgersma 2013.07.09

    Political analysts look at who can win each step to the election. The primary, then the election. So positioning in the party is one thing and winning the general election is another. Some real good party people can win one or the other, but they need to win both. The problem that is not always looked at by analysts that the people do look at is, "Will they get the job done in Washington".
    When Rounds thought the budget would be ok and his Leiutenant gov Daugaard thought most of his campaign that the budget would fix itself through growth, then they are as naïve as thinking that they learned to manage the dam when it rained for two years to get the dam back to normal levels. Then is rained again and it got to full and we had flooding. Rounds is an insurance salesman who likes to make everyone happy to reduce risks. We need more of a principled approach to balancing the federal deficeit. Rounds might win the election but not get the job done in Washington any better than Washington is already. We need someone that can take a stand on issues without being an insurance salesman covering his risks by not being controversial on anything.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.07.09

    Kristi said she wouldn't throw in, but she's clearly not enthused about Rounds. That's part of why I'd get excited about running Nelson for House if I were a Republican insurgent. Nelson and Rhoden could work together; Noem seems unlikely to spend any of her energy boosting Rounds, especially if she faces a tough primary challenge. She's all about herself. Campaigning together for separate offices would give Nelson and Rhoden an advantage that Noem and Rounds are unlikely to replicate.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.07.09

    Don't forget, Roger, Republicans aren't looking for someone who can get things done in Washington. All Republicans want is a pretty face who can raise money and keep Dems out of Washington. On those criteria, advantage Rounds.

  9. interested party 2013.07.09

    Rhoden could be the Marion Rounds of 2014 emerging from the cat fight between a former governor and a fundamentalist Marine.

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