South Dakota's Senate race has always been the GOP's to lose. Nobody argues that former Governor Mike Rounds was badly weakened by the revelations about the ongoing EB-5 visa scandal, which dates back to his 2003-2011 tenure in Pierre. But nobody who was honest saw a path to Democratic victory unless independent candidate Larry Pressler stayed buoyant in the polls, and conservative Gordon Howie started taking real support from the GOP.
New public polls suggest that the GOP has prevented all that. Two weeks after the National Republican Senatorial Committee answered ads from PACs and the DSCC, Rounds is up by 9 points and 14 points in polls from Mason-Dixon and Marist. (The pollsters had not previously measured the race.) The only polling that had given Democratic candidate Rick Weiland a possible opening had pegged Pressler's support in the high 20s or low 30s. Instead, the independent has fallen into the teens.
Weiland is responding by calling on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to endorse him. It jumped into the race by announcing a possible $1 million commitment and running this spot.
But in an interview, Weiland said that “Harry Reid and his DSCC” needed to “get positive or get out.”
“They made a big announcement about South Dakota,” he said. “They came in and started running attack ads against Mike Rounds. It didn’t really help me much. It just made me look like I was a dirty campaigner. I know, and any political strategist in the country would tell you, that that was aimed at promoting Larry Pressler and not me. I’d just like them to go positive so we can make this campaign about what it’s always about, which is taking back our politics, raising the minimum wage, protecting Medicare and Society Security.”
The DSCC was not exactly alone in this. Mayday PAC brought national attention to the race by buying time for a positive Weiland spot. Their bet was that Rounds was weakened enough by the scandal, and Weiland, who'd committed to campaign finance reform if he got to the Senate, could run through a gap. In the Marist poll, which shows Weiland down 14 to Rounds, Weiland's favorable rating was 46-33; Rounds's was 52-40. That represented a net gain for Rounds since the late September polls that inspired the outside PACS.
“Our internals are better than that,” said Weiland. “I’ve tried to engage with the DSCC for the last 18 months. They keep touting this ground game they’ve got, but obviously they haven’t deployed that here. I don’t even think they’ve endorsed me yet.”
But hadn't Weiland already said that he'd oppose Reid as majority leader? Several times? He had.
“The DSCC should be interested in electing people who share the values of the Democratic Party,” said Weiland. “Unfortunately, Reid and Mitch McConnell have created the most dysfunctional Congress in a generation. Dick Durbin is good; there are senators like Tim Kaine who are able to work with the other side in a way that benefits everyone. Reid has demonstrated incapable of that.”
A DSCC spokesman didn't immediately respond to Weiland's pitch. A NRSC spokesman was convinced that the DSCC had given up already.