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Pressler Enters Race; Can Weiland Unify Dems for Victory?

An eager reader reminds me to finish my breakfast with a helping of crow.

Back in April, Gordon Howie suggested that Larry Pressler was positioning himself to run for Tim Johnson's Senate seat. I deemed the assertion nuts; Howie was simply putting 2 and 2 together and getting 47.2 again. Howie was gluing Pressler's argument for gay marriage onto Howie's own threadbare assertion that the Republican Party is a bunch of liberals.

But comes now candidate Larry Pressler, making Howie half-right with his official announcement that he will run for Senate... as an Independent.

Empirical evidence says Pressler is the longest shot in the race. South Dakotans have elected one third-party Senator, James. H. Kyle, who won as an Independent in 1890 and as a Populist in 1896. That means we've picked just 1 out of 23 elected Senators from something other than the GOP and Dem pools in 43 Senate elections. That puts Pressler's historical Indy odds between 4.3% and 2.3%.

So with Larry in, who runs how?

Pressler, of course, bids for every vote he can get, from every party. He plays to the vast unideological middle. He teases Democrats, hoping to peel away some Indian and moderate voters.

But Pressler focuses on the spicy Republican enchilada. If Mike Rounds wins the GOP nomination, he plays to the Republicans who think Rounds is a rich, lucky, but talentless power-grabber with no real vision for governing. He tells his old Republican friends that this is their chance to shut the Rounds machine down but, with Pressler promising to serve only one term, to clear the decks for a 2020 run by some shinier young light of the party. If Stace Nelson wins the GOP nomination, Pressler points to Nelson's Tea Party/Ted Cruz-ity as exactly the kind of theo-Birchy radicalism that drive him away from the Republican Party and offers his mainstream Republican friends a lifeline. If Rhoden wins the nomination, we giggle about having two Larries on the ballot, and Pressler runs on record, experience, and better French skills.

The Republican nominee fights the battle mostly on GOP and Indy grounds. The Republicans know they have nothing to offer Dems, so they just try to prevent defections, keep their base fired up, and spend all the money they can to ceaslessly ridicule Pressler.

Rick Weiland still travels the state and shakes every hand in every town. He amplifies the attacks Pressler uses against the GOP nominee (Rounds the rich schemer, Nelson the ideological nightmare...). Weiland's goal outside his party ranks is to peel votes away from the bigger, richer, front-runner GOP. Republicans make up 46% of the current electorate; get just five percentage points of that group to vote Dem, induce a similar slice to vote for Pressler, and the Republicans are down to 36%.

But Job #1 in this three-way for Weiland is party unity. Assuming Pressler can run a credible campaign, Weiland watches with glee as Pressler and the GOP nominee divide both the GOP and the Indy vote. Weiland reminds every Democrat that Republicans have nothing to offer them. Democrats currently make up 35% of the electorate. Get them all to come vote Dem, add those GOP defectors mentioned above, draw some Indies, Weiland cracks 40%, and Weiland-Rounds/Nelson-Pressler becomes Clinton-Bush-Perot.

Pre-Pressler, Weiland's chances of winning in November depended significantly on whether Nelson could derail the Rounds money train in the primary. But with a credible Pressler putting a third line on the November ballot, Weiland's prospects against Rounds just picked up. A credible Pressler forces Rounds to divide his campaign resources. Plus, there is a certain anti-Rounds contingent that might mark Mike's name in a two-man race, or leave that line blank, but will never vote for a Democrat. Pressler gives those anti-Rounds voters a way to let off their steam in November and increases the chances that Weiland can win.


  1. Rick 2013.12.27

    Rounds/Wadhams' "dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge" strategy to run down the clock on the GOP primary may not work. Would that put Pressler in the driver's seat against the Democrat and the Republican nominees who would have significantly less name ID?

    This has already been the most interesting election for decades in South Dakota, and there is an immense amount of time left before the filing deadline for both parties. Things could change in a campaign where the only issue alive is the Rounds GOED scandal.

    Rhoden's best shot to break out of the GOP primary -- now turning into a contest for the tallest midget -- starts with the convening of the S.D. Legislature where he serves as Senate Majority Whip. Now (not later) is the time to introduce legislation to reform government corruption. His recent idea to reform corruption in Congress has no meaning if he bypasses an opportunity to make his message stick at home in Pierre where there is a raging scandal of corruption in the Rounds/Daugaard administrations.

    The same goes for Rep. Stace Nelson, the #1 political outlier in both parties in Pierre now that Frank Kloucek is gone. Stace, it's show time! You can call Rhoden's bluff and introduce his ban on House and Senate members becoming lobbyists in Pierre because I'm willing to bet 50 cents Rhoden doesn't have the spine to do it. You can take away his issue and prove the point (along with other reform measures -- including a repeal of the state gag laws) that you're the only serious reform candidate in the GOP pack. You win. Rounds and Rhoden lose because they're part of the mess, not the solution. And Pressler becomes irrelevant, unless he wants to discuss his role as the guy who didn't take the money in the ABSCAM scandal -- which occurred in the last century.

    I don't know who's in charge of the Rhoden or Nelson campaigns, but they seriously need a visit from a hardball campaign manager. Like a Patches O’Houlihan for South Dakota politics. So far, they've been avoiding opportunities to pop the Rounds/Wadhams balloon. Which one of you guys wants to really win this one?

  2. Dave 2013.12.27

    Pat Powers is currently obsessed with denigrating Pressler in every way imaginable ... the Rounds camp is clearly worried. Powers – such a stand-up guy for the Rounds campaign -- even during the holiday season. He just keeps on shovelin'.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.27

    Rick, was it you the other day noting the campaign disadvantage that Nelson and Rhoden now face as they spend the next 2.5 months focused on their Legislative duties? Not that I approve of seeing the people's business take a backseat to primary politics, but Nelson and Rhoden both need to look for ways to leverage their Legislative work to make up for the campaign time they'll lose. Both men could benefit from proposing reform legislation that would serve the people and get them lots of press time. Nelson loves talking about voting records; he should relish the opportunity to get Rhoden on the record on a whole batch of new legislative proposals that test his conservative mettle.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.27

    Pressler is easy blog material for Pat, because the Pressler story is already written. He can recycle old material and reaffirm the narrative to which he and his readers have subscribed for years.

    Heavy fire from the Powers/Wadhams/Rounds camp would suggest they think Pressler is a threat. Can Pressler mount a credible campaign?

  5. Rick 2013.12.27

    Cory, I don't recall that I said that, but then consistancy is highly overrated. :-)

    I thought you'd enjoy the references to Patches O’Houlihan!

  6. Douglas Wiken 2013.12.27

    Don't be surprised if Pressler suddenly decides to drop out of the race and then endorses Rounds. Of course, Plastic Pressler may have developed a backbone and principles in his old least 1 year more than mine.

  7. Roger Cornelius 2013.12.27

    Speaking of Gordon Howie, didn't he also say he had it from high Republican sources that Rounds would drop out soon? Is he going to make you eat crow twice, Cory?

  8. owen reitzel 2013.12.27

    My guess Roger if that happens Cory will gladly eat crow and I'd sit down with him and eat it as well.

  9. Les 2013.12.27

    Are we to take it, there is still hope for you in the next year or two Wiken? ;)
    What are you waiting for Rick, aka Patches O’Houlihan?

  10. Douglas Wiken 2013.12.27

    No hope Les. I am considered incorrigible and hopeless.

    Pressler is probably basically good, but ambition and vanity has caused him to do some rather interesting political somersaults. However given only a choice between Pressler and Rounds, I would opt for Pressler. And Weiland would be better than either.

  11. Kurt Evans 2013.12.28

    Cory blogged: "South Dakotans have elected one third-party Senator, James. H. Kyle, who won as an Independent in 1890 ..."

    And that was mainly the work of Democrats in the state legislature, before U.S. Senators were directly elected by popular vote. South Dakota has had all of six non-major-party U.S. Senate candidates on the ballot since 1938 (Minnesota 65, Iowa 47, North Dakota 31):

    Cory commented: "Heavy fire from the Powers/Wadhams/Rounds camp would suggest they think Pressler is a threat. Can Pressler mount a credible campaign?"

    I really liked what he was saying about getting out of Afghanistan and reining in the NSA. But then Powers pointed out that when Pressler's daughter was 19, she had a _Columbian_ painting in her bathroom:

    My beloved home state is already starting to smell like Dick Wadhams.

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