It’s over in South Dakota.
Numerous polls the past several days show independent Larry Pressler’s “September Surge” shriveled under a triangulation of television fire from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Rounds for Senate campaign and even odd players like the American Chemistry Council.
Yes, the American Chemistry Council, as in “better living through chemistry”—and Mike Rounds.
Representative of the recent polling is the NBC News/Marist poll released last Sunday that had the race with Rounds at 43 percent, Democrat Rick Weiland at 29 percent and Pressler at 16 percent. The other independent, Gordon Howie, is barely registering in the latest round of polling.
Then last month Weiland—who first cried for Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee help for months and months, and finally got it in the past several weeks—blasted them for trying to throw the race to Pressler, whom Weiland claims the DSCC really wanted to win.
The DSCC said mean things about Rounds and his sticky program of EB-5 green cards for foreign investment when he was governor. The DSCC ads said the same things, though with a bit more stridency, that Weiland has on the campaign trail.
Weiland complained that the negative ads against Rounds (and never mind that the above-mentioned groups and others were hammering both Pressler and Weiland as horrible Obama-loving liberals) would be attributed to him by voters.
That’s why he lost a few points or stayed flat compared to Rounds (and why Rounds jumped 6-10 percent) in less than a month, in the mind of Weiland.
Meanwhile, the other independent, Tea Party darling Gordon Howie, has dropped below 3 percent in most of the polls and is no longer a threat to Rounds’ right flank. His current campaign tactic is apparently to hire trackers to try to conduct ambush interviews on Rounds after public events or debates.
The results have been comical.
In one ambush, the crew apparently thought their iPad had night vision and the shooter strategically placed his finger half over the device’s microphone. So all you see and hear is a lot of darkness and mumbling.
Another event, this time during daylight, had a similar result. Republican blogger Pat Powers described the trackers “chasing around the alley, out of breath and in the rain looking like a couple of drowned rats.”
And Rounds made another clean getaway.
Just as he has done in this election, barring divine intervention or a Justice Department indictment over the whole EB-5 mess. Neither of which looks likely.
So, in South Dakota, election night, we’re going to get the result we thought we were going to get about two years ago when Rounds announced his run for the Senate: Rounds fairly easily elected to the U.S. Senate and the GOP turns a blue seat red as Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) retires.
Longtime Pierre capitol correspondent Bob Mercer predicts Rounds 51, Weiland 25, Pressler 11 and Howie scraping up the crumbs.
The margin may not be as large as those of us in the South Dakota punditocracy may have thought over a year ago, but it will most likely be a comfortable win for Rounds.
But still, the polls can’t be so completely wrong again like they were this summer in Virginia with Eric Cantor, can they? Not likely.
The race just took a far more circuitous—and curious—route than any sane South Dakotan could have imagined.
Though an undefeated politician in all of his runs for the legislature and the governorship and having left office with good approval ratings, Rounds was challenged by four other Republicans in the June primary.
The EB-5 scandal exploded in October 2013 with the apparent suicide of Rounds’ former secretary of tourism and economic development, Richard Benda. Benda was accused of double billing travel and was, according to Attorney General Marty Jackley, going to be indicted for misappropriating state money that had gone to Northern Beef Packers for “loan monitoring.” Benda was a key player tied to Rounds in the EB-5 mess.
Rounds also drew two political novices—attorney and reserve Army Maj. Jason Ravnsborg and Dr. Annette Bosworth—and two legislators, former Marine Stace Nelson and state Senate majority leader Larry Rhoden.
Bosworth in particular made the race, as we polite Upper Midwesterners say, “interesting.” She made a short, viral video about schools needing to teach more about guns and the Bible. She held news conferences where she prayed or stood before her own campaign signs that her own volunteers had graffittied with vulgar terms for women.
And, following the election, she was arrested for saying she was circulating petitions in South Dakota while she and her husband, Chad Haber, a non-lawyer running for attorney general (a whole other story), were in the Philippines on a medical mission. She stands trial next February.
Nelson, the former Marine and NCIS investigator, had no fear of Rounds and kept up a barrage of attacks, calling him a “crony capitalist” and dirty with “Communist Red Chinese” money from EB-5 investors.
In the five-way June primary race, Rounds captured what many thought was a weak 55 percent of the vote.
Then the summer has been a drip, drip, drip of allegations, documents and even Rounds’ flip-flops in the usually somnambulant South Dakota media. Weiland smelled blood. Pressler took a page from Rounds’ own 2002 GOP gubernatorial campaign and played the role of the moderate, centrist and sunny “none of the above.”
For Pressler, it almost worked.
He doubled his support in the polls from around 15 percent to 30-plus percent in August and September.
Then the triangulation of fire from the grassy knolls and TV stations of South Dakota was brought to bear on Pressler and Weiland.
South Dakotans were reminded over and over again—particularly Republican voters—that if you don’t like the president, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and liberals, you’d better come home to Mike and make the Senate red. And the only way to do that—EB-5 be damned—was to vote for Rounds.
That point was driven home a week before the election.
A nice lady rang my doorbell. She asked whom I was voting for. I simply said I was voting. She persevered, asking how I was leaning. I said I’m undecided. To which she replied, “Well, Pressler’s down to 16 points and has no chance. If you don’t want Weiland, you have to vote for Mike.”
Then she entered my data as “undecided” on her iPhone. Yes, there’s an app for that.
Pressler was the voters’ summer romance. When school and fall returned, they returned to their “steady,” Gov. Rounds. And no way were they even going to consider a date with Weiland.
Meanwhile, Howie’s guys are chasing Rounds around the state, hoping to ask him embarrassing or obscure questions, once they can figure out the technology and stay dry.
Oh, and throw in a dash of Dick Wadhams.
The acerbic Coloradan is the mad genius who a decade ago helped Republican John Thune unseat Democratic senator and sitting majority leader Tom Daschle. Wadhams’ rhetoric against Pressler and Weiland was akin to what the Soviet Red Army did in Berlin—bomb, shoot, destroy and give no quarter.
He even blamed the lingering EB-5 investigation on Johnson’s son Brendan, the U.S. attorney for South Dakota, “Obama’s U.S. attorney.” Never mind that prosecutors of both political persuasions typically never say if or whom they’re investigating.
In the end, lots of money, constant attacks on Weiland and Pressler, a weak South Dakota Democratic Party, Wadhams and the GOP’s voter advantage will give us Senator-elect Mike Rounds.
But in between it all, it’s been one helluva ride.