The State Of The Race In South Dakota

Earlier this week a reader from Texas gave us a great rundown of midterms down there. A reader in South Dakota follows suit:

Six months ago, I would tell anybody who would listen that there was zero chance that the Senate seat held by Democrat Tim Johnson was going to go to another Democrat.  Former Governor Mike Rounds, a Republican, would win by a land slide.  I used to laugh when I would see SD even put in any category but a surefire GOP win.

Now, I am not so sure.  There is a big scandal here in SD that has the potential of dragging Mike Rounds down.

I don’t think it means that the Democrat candidate, Weiland, is going to win.  I do, however, think that there is a 50-50 chance that Larry Pressler, the former Republican running as an Independent could win.   And, it is not entirely certain that Pressler would caucus with the Republicans.

The scandal is something that I would put in a category of “you just can’t make this stuff up”. It involves a program under Rounds called EB-5, where foreigners essentially can “buy” green cards for $500,000 as part of an economic development project. The program was administered by a person called Joop Bollen, who under Rounds went from administering this program as part of a business institute at a university to a corporation he formed and that he made millions from. He did that in concert with Richard Benda, former Secretary of Tourism and Economic Development under Rounds. Benda has since committed suicide in circumstances that seem very odd (shotgun propped up by a tree with a stick used to pull the trigger).

The problem for Rounds is that he continues to change his story. He continues to refuse to just own the program. The big project at the heart of the current scandal is a beef-packing plant that was a centerpiece of his economic development ideas for the state.

There are many crazy things about this whole program and the actions of Joop Bollen, and the spin that has back-fired on Rounds.  See the liberal blog, Madville Times, for more coverage. For a just-the-facts, no-spin take, there’s this article from the Argus Leader.

I am bringing this up because my parents are staunch Republican voters. They voted for Rounds in the primary. But they are voting for Pressler. The reason? Rounds is not trustworthy to them. They just don’t believe him. At a minimum, it reflects serious issues with his governance if he knew nothing – and that just doesn’t pass the smell test. As I understand it, all the negative attack ads paid for by outside groups are just negative on Rounds without endorsing any other candidate – and some suspect that may be intentional by the national Democrats.

Pressler doesn’t have a ground game and doesn’t have much of a campaign.  But he does have name recognition as being a former Republican Senator. And so people who are troubled by this scandal have an option. The Democrats would vote for Weiland anyway. Since the Democrats don’t have any significant state office and barely have any seats in the legislature, the real challenge for Rounds are the disaffected Republicans who are disgusted with this scandal and want an alternative.

It’s not a shoe-in for Pressler by any means. But I would put this seat as a race between Rounds and an Independent.

Previous Dish on the South Dakota race here.