The South Dakota Newspaper Association tomorrow hosts a debate in Pierre featuring the five candidates for the GOP nod in June's U.S. Senate primary. The announcement from SDNA notes that the late morning start will originate in Pierre. From other sources I learn that it will be webcast by the Spearfish Pioneer Press and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Political junkies no doubt have the event circled on their calendars, but less-addicted, garden variety voters have something to watch for too.
For one thing, much as I've been chiding front-runner Mike Rounds about not coming out of his shell and saying something substantive about current political affairs, it will be a relief to see the man actually responding to direct questions from real newspaper people. We've had more than enough of Rounds' canned commentary in front of friendly audiences and lavishly produced video spots full of the usual platitudes coming from a carefully cultivated persona in the safety of a studio. And it will also be good to see a gathering of the the secondary candidates, an earnest if somewhat quixotic group of contenders whose names generally show up only in pro forma mentions in the various media outlets in South Dakota (for the record their names are Bosworth, Nelson, Ravnsborg and Rhoden). In their way, these candidates are doing Rounds a big favor by diffusing some of the focus that would otherwise be directed at Rounds alone.
Considering all the unanswered questions that have been raised by Rounds' tenure as governor (2003-2011), he should be relieved that tomorrow's 90-minute confab will have five candidates splitting up the time. That persistent and pesky matter of a failed SD government-sponsored and supported beef packing plant in Aberdeen will no doubt be brought up, but probably not in much depth given the number of bodies on stage, the considerable amount of policy ground that needs to be covered, and the limited time. Then there's the matter of a sizable hole in the state budget that Rounds left for filling by his successor, Governor Dennis Daugaard. And of course the growth of state government during his two terms has yet to be explained, considering that, as Democrats gleefully point out, it grew by 1500 employees while South Dakota's population remained virtually static. For one thing, Rounds should expand on his claim that he's a fiscally conservative Republican trying to bring some "common sense" to fiscal matters in Washington, given his spending proclivities while in Pierre.
For another, Rounds can elaborate on just what he means by "common sense." As I'd say his front-runner status in terms of money and name-recognition probably makes him the favorite to win both the primary and the general election, it would be helpful to know if that means he'll be able to buck the national GOP establishment when it comes to matters affecting South Dakota. I note that GOP Senator John Thune recently went along with the extreme wing of the party when he voted against raising the federal debt ceiling, an unsuccessful initiative that, if passed, would have crippled the U.S. Treasury's ability to pay our country's bills and service our debts. That would have been devastating to a state as dependent on federal dollars (like, half the state's budget) as South Dakota is. I want to know if Rounds is also likely to be seduced by the extreme elements of the national party. Check back here for a post-mortem.