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.