With less than 24 hours until the polls open, Rick Weiland's race for Senate comes right back to where it started. With the two largest papers in South Dakota saying Mike Rounds doesn't deserve a Senate seat, with Larry Pressler hanging tough and even Gordon Howie surging (yes, laugh, but now every point counts), Democrats find themselves right where I said they ten months ago when Larry Pressler entered the race: unite and win!
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 [Cory Allen Heidelberger, "Pressler Enters Race; Can Weiland Unify Dems for Victory?" Madville Times, 2013.12.27].
Let's update that thinking with Rick's performance, Mike's EB-5 stumbles, and voter numbers in this wild four-man race:
- A chunk of Democrats (26%, according to the last SurveyUSA poll) are still saying they'll vote for Pressler.
- Rick Weiland has given Democrats lots of reasons to vote for him and no reason to vote against him. He hasn't riled the base the way Herseth Sandlin did with a string of votes against the President (culminating in her vote against the Affordable Care Act). He hasn't said anything dumb about gay marriage the way Matt Varilek did in 2012. Rick has run a nearly perfect campaign, based on progressive policies, populism, show leather, and good music.
- The only good reason Dems might still be voting for Pressler is that they latched onto Pressler last December when the former Senator announced his Independent bid. A combination of surprise, nostalgia, and nervousness that Weiland hadn't proved himself as a candidate yet maybe induced some Dems to think Pressler had a better chance of upsetting Mike Rounds. (Yes, we Dems do get some crazy ideas.)
- If those Pressler Dems will groundhog up, they'll realize things have changed. Rick has proven himself.
- Weiland can win; Pressler cannot. Only one poll showed Pressler closer to Rounds than Weiland. That poll is a month old; every poll since has refuted it and restored the expected order, showing Weiland (most recently) 11 points from Rounds compared to Pressler's 24.
- Weiland has a natural base on top of which undecideds and re-decideds can pile their power. Pressler does not.
- Come home, Democrats, and you can lift Weiland all on your own. If 26% of Dems are still backing Pressler, and if Secretary Gant's 60% turnout holds, fast math on voter registration totals shows that if we can get a majority of those Dems to come to their senses, we put over 5 percentage points back in Rick's column. (Make some calls, give a Dem friend a ride, and we can push that number higher.)
- Meanwhile, Mike Rounds has given his base plenty of reason not to vote for him. To mark Rounds on their ballot, GOP voters have to hold their noses, convince themselves nothing bad happened in EB-5. There was no corruption. Mike never lied. Joop Bollen and Richard Benda never scammed the taxpayers. There are Republicans who will find the mental effort to check their conscience and let Mike have a Senate seat just too much to take.
- Let the Rapid City Journal's anti-Rounds argument sink in, and another 5 percentage points fall out of Rounds's column.
- More than five, another more than five... holy cow! Where'd Mike's 11 go?
Just count, Democrats. There are 176,000 of you. If you will all get up and mark the one Democrat on your ballot (a good Democrat, an awesome Democrat, a Democrat who has in every way earned your vote) while Republicans and Independents split, you can send Rick Weiland to the Senate. You can keep Tim Johnson's seat and maybe the whole darn Senate in the best, sanest hands. Seize your moment. Dems!
Or boil it down this way: Pressler can't win. Weiland can. A vote for Pressler is a vote for Rounds. A vote for Weiland is a vote to win.
Bob Mercer says Weiland-backer concerns about leakage to Pressler make it sound like Team Weiland is "more worried about finishing third rather than second." Ha! We Dems are still playing for first... and we can make it happen on our own with good old-fashioned party unity.