Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland and his somnambulent campaign against Republican and former SD Governor Mike Rounds just got the goosing it needed. Having recently read that political consultant Steve Jarding has joined the Weiland team, this comes as no surprise to me. A few elections back, Jarding played a big role in Democrat Jim Webb's win over heavily favored Republican George Allen in their Virginia race for the U.S. Senate. Jarding's virtuosity resulted in a come-from-behind masterpiece that I believe is perfectly capable of recurring here in South Dakota. For one thing, as I noted here after the GOP primary (which Rounds won with a bare majority), Rounds failed to close the sale, despite his titanic lead in money and name recognition. His 55% majority against a field of underfinanced and little-known challengers only showed that nearly half the Republicans who voted in the primary preferred another candidate to carry the GOP mantle. A solid bloc of partisan support this is not. A lot of Republicans who looked elsewhere during the primary will do the same in the general. This is up for grabs, and now that Weiland's campaign has taken an aggressive tack, even more voters will start paying attention to the race, turning their critical eyes to Rounds. I believe that Rounds, sensing and fearing this, just basically backed away from the first mass-media confrontation with Weiland, the campaign debate to be aired by Sioux Falls TV station KSFY on September 10. Rounds' excuse? That old standby, "scheduling conflict." I challenge the Rounds campaign to disclose the scheduled event that they deem more important than presenting their candidate, confronting his challengers, to a huge number of voters, especially in the wake of all the charges attached to Rounds' connection to the EB-5/Northern Beef Packers fiasco.
I've been chiding Weiland here for months about the vapidity of his "take it back" campaign theme, lacking as it did specifics and any direct shots at Rounds, so I welcome "the Jarding touch," if only because it will snap more voters to attention. I don't think South Dakotans want a race about broad ideologies and hackneyed slogans. Weiland and "Take It Back" are only slightly less banal than Rounds and "South Dakota Common Sense." Things are likely to get rough on this particular campaign trail, but the mettle-testing that results will make for excellent contrasts and comparisons. The campaign is about two guys and their abilities to best represent the interests of a tiny state like South Dakota in the mighty halls of Congress. Watching them go at it now will reveal something about the moxie the eventual winner will take to D.C.