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The retirement of U.S. Senator Tim Johnson makes South Dakota's 2014 Senate race a key one.
The retirement of U.S. Senator Tim Johnson makes South Dakota's 2014 Senate race a key one.

Looking Ahead to 2014

Jun 3, 2013


To no one’s surprise, Tim Johnson will retire from the Senate at the end of this term. It is worth saying that Senator Johnson is a fine man. We have every reason to be proud of the way he represented our state in the upper house of Congress. His departure opens up a piece of electoral real estate that might determine who controls the Senate in 2015. A year and a half out, it is a good time to take the measure of both parties.

Governor Mike Rounds is the only announced Republican candidate for that Senate seat. He is unlikely to face serious opposition from within his own party. Rounds’ victory in the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary was the great surprise of that year. The two leading contenders took each other out in a bitter fight, leaving Rounds with the nomination. He won office with fifty-seven percent of the vote and won again in 2006 with over sixty percent of the vote. With two statewide victories under his belt and his popularity intact, he looks to be a formidable candidate.

Kristi Noem is the only Republican who might offer a serious challenge to Rounds, but it seems very unlikely that she would choose to do so or find support within the party if she did. However, if Rounds had not thrown his hat in the ring, she would have been well placed to compete for the Senate seat. Like Rounds, she has twice won a statewide election. South Dakota Republicans have a strong bench.

The Democrats do not. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin would have been the best candidate to challenge Rounds in the general election. She won statewide four times, including the special election in 2004 that first put her in office. However, she declined to run, as did Senator Johnson’s son, Brendan. The leading contender for the Democratic nomination is Rick Weiland, who enters the contest with the backing of Tom Daschle.

I met Rick Weiland in 1994 when he appeared on a televised panel with his opponent for the House seat, John Thune. Weiland was charming, intelligent and articulate. He won six of our state’s sixty-six counties and thirty-seven percent of the popular vote. In the 2002 Democratic primary for the at large House seat, he lost nearly every county to Stephanie Herseth and carried only thirty-two percent of the Democratic voters.

Rick Weiland and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin represent two sides of the Democratic coin. In 2010 Rick’s brother Kevin considered challenging Herseth Sandlin for the nomination, largely because she voted against ObamaCare. He did not do so, but that was a sign of a division in the party that helped elect Kristi Noem. It is possible that Herseth Sandlin decided not to run in part because she could not count on the enthusiastic support of her own party. If so, that does not bode well for the near term future of that party in the Rushmore State.

Weiland may better represent the core of the Democratic Party, here and nationally. If he is going to be competitive in 2014, he is going to have to win more than six counties. 


Editor's Note: Ken Blanchard is our political columnist from the right. For a left-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Cory Heidelberger every other Wednesday on this site.

Dr. Ken Blanchard is a professor of Political Science at Northern State University and writes for the Aberdeen American News and the blog South Dakota Politics.


06:58 am - Tue, June 4 2013
Jon said:
From a MN view I do not understand why you do not seem to like Rounds. I think it would be a BIG upset if he is not SD's next Senator. I believe Sen Tim even refers to the former Governor as a friend. Being the columist from the right what Republican would want to run against Rounds??? I think the fomer Govenor announced early for a good reason - he has waited to do this and has known for some time he was going to do it.
08:44 am - Tue, June 4 2013
Bernie said:
Jon, I don't think Ken is trashing Mike Rounds in any way. He's just evaluating the political landscape.

In that same vein, Ken, purely from an analytical standpoint, six counties might be enough if they turned out to be Lincoln, Pennington, Minnehaha, Davison, Brown and Lawrence?

08:18 am - Wed, June 5 2013
Jon said:
Good to hear from you Bernie. I think those six counties would win an election in almost any year. They are only getting bigger while others are getting smaller. Remember, in my day Milbank was one of the 16 largest schools in SD. Yes, we had automobiles then.

I think my Round's point is why would anyone in the Republican Party want to run against him. Unless I am missong something I think the Party is thrilled to have him run.

Will it make a difference in DC, probably not. I think DC has been out of control for decades and it has become a way of life for those elected and employed there.
09:34 pm - Thu, June 6 2013
Ken Blanchard said:
Bernie and Jon: indeed, I did not intend any criticism of Rounds here. My point was the disproportion between the strengths of the two parties. We would be better off with two serious parties. Right now, we seem to have only one.

As for Bernie's six counties, if Weiland does win those six... Therein lies the problem.
02:09 pm - Sun, July 14 2013
Mike M said:
Ken: To borrow a term from another of your columns, how do you see the political climate "evolving" in South Dakota? If the six counties Bernie mentioned have growing populations that are increasingly diverse and younger, while the rest of the state is aging and losing population, what does that mean for the future possibility of two serious parties in South Dakota? Way back in the previous century when I was a bit politically active in SD the Dems (where I hung out) seemed like hopelessly sidelined whiners, which may still be the case. Except that voters would elect very liberal Democrat US Senators at the same time they elected very conservative state office-holders. I guess the state's one-party voters have no objection to disproportionate federal money brought home, but want social conservatives to control who gets it?

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