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The Plot Thickens
Oct 15, 2014
South Dakota's four-man contest for Tim Johnson's Senate seat exploded into the national media consciousness last week. A variety of factors have put Rick Weiland, Mike Rounds, Larry Pressler and even Gordon Howie on the pages of the New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg, MSNBC and other national outlets. I'm thrilled, because all that attention means more reporters coming to South Dakota, buying sandwiches and paying sales tax, which means a shot in the arm for our economy. Hooray for economic development!
Actually, our Senate race went national because of economic development, or more specifically, Mike Rounds's promotion of economic development through the EB-5 visa investment program. The EB-5 story was drifting away this summer until State Sen. Larry Tidemann and fellow Republicans stifled State Rep. Susan Wismer's motion to subpoena key EB-5 player Joop Bollen. That unconscionable stonewall drew statewide editorial fire. Democrats realized the EB-5 story had legs, started digging harder and discovered a raft of new documents and misdeeds that dragged Mike Rounds into spin, excuses and self-contradiction.
The public noticed, too. Published and internal polls have revealed enough voter dissatisfaction with the statements Rounds has made in response to the EB-5 scandal to motivate the Mayday PAC and even the long-Weiland-shy DSCC to throw millions of dollars into ads challenging Rounds on EB-5 and supporting Weiland. The press follows the money in scandals and campaigns, and that money told the D.C. press that South Dakota is on fire.
EB-5 lit that fire, but the Rounds campaign has been surprisingly bad at putting it out. Rounds seems to have coasted for too long on his own sense of entitlement and inevitability. When invited to respond to questions from legislators about EB-5, Rounds spent too much time writing a political screed and not enough time doing the homework necessary to provide direct, factual answers, as evidenced by his failure to check the records and report that the governor's office was indeed served with a lawsuit related to EB-5 in 2009.
Team Rounds has seemed stuck in last November, talking about Richard Benda as the fall guy for all EB-5 ills. Many of the new accusations of shady EB-5 conduct have little to do with Benda. Yet after almost a year of knowing Democrats could raise questions about EB-5, Team Rounds seems never to have briefed out consistent or believable defenses.
Meanwhile, Team Weiland has earned national attention with a smart campaign on multiple fronts. They've incorporated EB-5 without obsessing over it. Weiland has released funny, pointed and catchy music videos that give the national media great hooks for South Dakota stories. And Weiland has earned his stripes with his non-stop every-town campaigning.
And then there's Larry Pressler. Completely contradicting some personal attacks about his mental acuity, Pressler has come to interviews and debates sounding every bit the Rhodes Scholar and veteran lawmaker. He has parlayed name recognition and his opportunistic sense of public discontent with partisanship into 20 percent-plus poll numbers that even his closest friends didn't predict. Pressler's presence creates what physicists would call a three-body problem, introducing chaos in poll predictions by upsetting the much simpler math of a two-man, “If Rounds is down, Weiland is up” campaign.
Scandal, a flopping frontrunner, a smart challenger, and crazy math—that's why South Dakota's Senate race is in the national news. Now, how about another sandwich, Mr. New York Times?
Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a conservative perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard on this site.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and has taught math, English, speech, and French at high schools East and West River.