Labor Day is often seen as the real start of the fall election season. So as we are now past that holiday it may be worthwhile to assess the status of South Dakota’s 2014 election season.
For the professional election watcher it must be said that this year’s elections offer little in the way of drama. The Republican dominance of the state Legislature looks to continue with little abatement. Democrats start the race conceding roughly a third of the Legislature to Republicans by simply not running candidates. The status quo will maintain.
The same is the case with the constitutional offices. Democrats failed to offer up candidates for Attorney General, Auditor, and School and Public Lands Commissioner. Indeed, the diminutive Libertarian Party had more success recruiting for these offices. Republicans will likely continue their hold on all positions.
Of the three “big” races, Governor, House of Representatives, and U.S. Senator, two also hold only modest interest. Gov. Daugaard holds a commanding lead over Democrat legislator Susan Wismer and independent candidate Mike Meyers. Daugaard is well-funded, popular, and likely cruising toward re-election. Wismer has tried to make an issue of Medicaid expansion but so far has not caught fire.
Similarly, Republican representative Kristi Noem faces an underfunded, largely unknown challenger in Corinna Robinson. Robinson only recently moved to the state after a military career and government career. While that service is commendable, she has no base within the state on which to base a successful run. Noem has gotten stronger as a legislator and is a formidable candidate. In what looks to be a Republican year with an unpopular Democrat in the White House, Noem seems destined for victory.
The sole excitement in our state is in the U.S. Senate race. Former governor Mike Rounds runs as the Republican nominee against Democrat Rick Weiland and former senator Larry Pressler, once a Republican, now running as an independent. Former Republican state legislator Gordon Howie is also running as an independent.
Recent polls have not been good news for Rounds, long thought the clear favorite. Rounds maintains a lead against both Weiland and Pressler, but is unable to break the magic fifty percent mark. Rounds, who won two gubernatorial races handily, cannot get a majority to endorse his Senate run. A recent poll by Public Policy Polling (PPP) has Rounds under 40 percent. While PPP is a Democrat affiliated firm, its polls are well respected.
Republicans have taken to arguing the Rick Weiland cannot win because he splits the anti-Rounds vote with Pressler. This is an argument from weakness. Republicans essentially concede that if Pressler dropped out of the race, Weiland may be nearly tied with Rounds.
Rick Weiland’s best change may indeed be for Larry Pressler to drop out and endorse Weiland. To be sure, Rick Weiland is far to the left of the South Dakota electorate. Rounds, likely hoping to run a positive campaign, will have to go negative to remind voters of this fact.
Rounds remains a strong candidate. He has won two statewide elections and is well funded. And, again, he is a Republican in a Republican year in a Republican state. Still, you can’t begrudge a political junkie hoping for a little excitement.
Jon D. Schaff is a professor of political science at Northern State University in Aberdeen. The views he expresses are his own, not those of the university.