Some month ago I dismissed former SD Republican Senator Larry Pressler's campaign as "pointless." I pretty much wrote off the aging wunderkind's emergence in the race as an Independent candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Democrat Tim Johnson as a glorified ego-trip and and expected his campaign to dissolve rather quickly. That Pressler is showing up in the polls with about 25% support isn't exactly a mighty repudiation of my disdain for his campaign, but it does show that I was too quickly dismissive of his role in this race. Little did I guess then that former Governor Mike Rounds, who looked invincible at the time--given his money and name-recognition--would get less than 40% support at this stage of the cycle. I think with Mike Rounds, the problem is that the more he shows up, the more people are willing to look the other way. Dynamic, he is not. Nor does he have a particularly stellar record as Governor to use as a prop. Add in the nearly daily pounding he's been taking on the blogosphere because of the EB-5/Northern Beef scandal that occurred under his watch, and voters have reason to consider the alternatives. This must be especially dismaying to the Rounds forces, considering their man won re-election to the statehouse in '06 with more than 60% of the vote.
All this has made it possible for Larry Pressler to stumble into factor-hood. The Survey USA poll cited above notes that if Pressler weren't in he race, it would be a dead heat between Rounds and his Democratic challenger Rick Weiland, so substantial is the anti-Rounds sentiment in South Dakota. It also forces the Weiland campaign to spread its resources, which are limited because the national Dem financial warchest hasn't been giving him any support. I think the party's national leadership has been stupid not to get behind Weiland because Rounds' vulnerability has become obvious, but that's another story. The story now is that Pressler has made some gains thanks to the disenchantment with Rounds. This of course has come at the expense of Weiland--and the conspiratorially-minded have some reason to wonder if there isn't some closet support for Pressler's candidacy coming from hidden Republican circles.
Knowing Pressler's main (or at least most visible) backer in Rapid City, the feisty and independent-minded Don Frankenfeld, I'd be amazed if that were the case, though in politics all things are possible. The Federal Election Commission reports that Pressler has so far received the less-than-princely sum of $108k, which doesn't seem like enough to support that recent spate of slick TV spots touting his refusal of a bribe in 1980 as a reason to vote for him in 2014. I believe that the FEC data runs through the end of the July quarter, which means numbers for the current quarter ending this month won't be up for a while. Readers with more knowledge and information are more than welcome to correct me as necessary here in my comments section. But money notwithstanding, it's pretty clear that Pressler's function at this point is to diffuse the anti-Rounds vote, either by design or circumstance. It matters not, as the whole hare-brained scheme is likely to have the effect of electing the man, Mike Rounds, that a strong majority of South Dakotans would prefer not to have as their U.S. Senator. Way to go, Larry Pressler.