Recently Sen. Tim Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election in 2014, putting to end the wide speculation that Sen. Johnson was hanging up his hat.
The announcement of the end of Sen. Johnson’s senatorial career has commenced a campaign-silly season. Now political observers are allowed to ponder freely who will run to fill the good senator’s seat.
We have one announced candidate, former Republican governor Mike Rounds. On the Democratic side the conventional wisdom points to former congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and to Sen. Johnson’s son Brendan, currently U.S. Attorney in our fair state.
No candidate is without weakness. It is not clear that Rounds’ evident popularity as governor will translate to a Senate run. Rounds’ moderate Republicanism may garner him a primary challenge on his right. Some suggest that Rep. Kristi Noem is that candidate, though one must admit that Noem is unlikely to take such a risk.
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin won four statewide elections, and one would think this would make her a formidable candidate. But Herseth Sandlin’s reputation has taken a hit from her defeat by Rep. Noem, and even many on the left of her party are skeptical about a Herseth Sandlin run. In addition, lobbyist ties, both her own and her husband’s, give evidence to the charge that she has done what South Dakotans loathe most: gone Washington.
Brendan Johnson has much to offer. He is relatively young, energetic and articulate. He likely can tap into some of the goodwill felt toward his father while also tapping fundraising ties. Obviously the Johnson name is a good brand. On the other hand, some suggest his appointment to U.S. Attorney smells of nepotism, and he has never run for public office.
One has to admit that the path to a Senate seat looks good for Rounds. Barring an unforeseen event, most all of the typical election parameters are in his favor.
Rounds has that one quality one looks for in a good candidate, namely he has already won one hundred percent of the geography for which he is now competing. Rounds won two governor races going away. It is hard to imagine large percentages of Rounds voters abandoning him in a Senate election.
Of course South Dakota is a Republican state, another Rounds advantage. Over the two election cycles this has become more true, with Republicans winning every constitutional office in the state, dominating the Legislature and increasing their lead in voter registration. It does not help that the current Democratic president, Barack Obama, is very unpopular in the state. Rounds will likely remind voters of this.
Republicans nationwide have managed to lose what looked to be easy Senate pickups over the last two elections. They have chosen some weak candidates in some circumstances or had sound candidates make grave errors. Rounds is neither a weak candidate nor the kind of candidate to make a serious mistake.
But politics is a strange business. As has been said, this election will be decided by events which have yet to occur. We have time to watch those events play out.
Jon D. Schaff is professor of political science at Northern State University in Aberdeen. His opinions are his own and do not represent those of Northern State University.