It was pretty much a dispiriting performance all the way around. I give Rounds the win just because the rest of the field came across as pretenders, not contenders. Sharing a mutual contempt for Obamacare and a hackneyed determination to fix things in Washington failed to propel any of the candidates into "stand out" status, so there isn't much of a reason to expect a change in the polling dynamics that have Rounds far ahead. I was hoping for more, especially as I believe Rounds' lead has more to do with name recognition and the natural political inertia that comes from his management, lackluster as it was, of South Dakota's affairs during his two-term tenure as Governor. This is why I give him the win by default.
There was one amusing aspect of Rounds' presentation. I noted that a couple of times, maybe more, Rounds insisted that with respect to the federal government, it was time for South Dakotans to "take it back." That stole a march from Democrat Rick Weiland's campaign for the Senate seat with its "Take It Back" slogan, a ploy that, if it wasn't, should have been plotted by Rounds and his advisors, because it will have the effect of diluting the Weiland message. If Rounds successfully co-opts it as a theme, it looks like we'll have a match-up in November between two campaigns vying for the same goal: taking back Washington, D.C. I gleefully envision a debate between Rounds and Weiland centered around who will do the better job of "taking back" D.C.
As to any points of contention, there were a few clashes, mainly in the way of attacks on Rounds during his stint as Governor. To the charge that Rounds was complicit in developing Obamacare because he had worked on a panel studying healthcare reform with then Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, Rounds claimed that he had "never worked with Daschle" on Obamacare. I'm not sure this can be verified, but that's probably irrelevant as there was no follow-up in the debate, which effectively neutralized the the charge. Rounds also successfully deflected the claim, which he can't deny, that some of his "balanced" budgets" as Governor occurred because he dipped into state reserves. His retort? State law required a balanced budget. Again, no follow-up, which put the subject to rest. I get the sense that not many voters will care about this. Some will see it differently, but my take is that it didn't really do Rounds any damage.
Lackluster as the presentations were, the debate did clarify that the primary race is more about stylistic than substantive differences. On the bigger federal issues like debt and Obamacare, the candidates were unified, condemning over-spending by the government and vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The consensus on the recently passed Farm Bill was that our Republican delegation to Congress did a great job on it, even if it is still festooned with the SNAP (food stamp) component that takes up 80% of its cost, a singularly contemptible aspect of the bill to South Dakota's Republican reps. Oh, well, nobody's perfect. That none of the candidates could be singled out for bringing a unique perspective or set of principles into the race made this debate--the whole GOP primary season, actually--an exercise in redundancy. This is why I think the most well-known candidate, Rounds, wins it by default.