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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.


08:06 am - Thu, October 16 2014
anonymous said:
You're delusional, Ken.
08:32 am - Thu, October 16 2014
I know Ken Blanchard is wrong about many things, but I'd love to hear him weigh in on the Senate race. His NSU colleague Jon Schaff has said that Democrats "have won the EB-5 debate" and that Weiland has run an "almost perfect" campaign.
10:26 am - Fri, October 17 2014
Rod Hall said:
Why not have Ed Schultz come pheasant hunting in SD and see where Benda died? Why was there never a certified coroner investigating Benda's death? If there are pictures of the scene why are they not made public? Can Ed find any hunter in SD that believes the "story" that a person trying to commit suicide with a shot gun would use a stick to press the trigger? Did the shot gun have a guard around the trigger? If it did then Benda would have had to use a forked stick. Where is the "stick" he used? If Benda stole half a million dollars and the Attorney General knew it in July why did the AG let that "criminal" run loose instead of arresting him on the spot? It was near the end of October that "they" found his body. Benda was not a gung ho hunter. If Rounds does win the election, the United States Senate will have an investigation carried out by someone other than Attorney General Jackley who was appointed by Gov. Rounds and Gov. Dugaard who was picked to be Lt. Gov by Rounds when they ran as a team for South Dakota Governor and Lt. Governor. The United States cannot afford to once again elect a US Senator that would be kicked out for lying and corruption to say nothing of a suspicious death, labeled as a suicide, that does not pass the smell test. Ed Schultz get your hunting togs on, grab a shotgun and fly out to South Dakota. The weather is unusually warm and it might just get really hot if the facts of this sordid case are exposed to the air.
10:40 am - Fri, October 17 2014
Rod Hall said:
Africa and the United States has EBOLA and Rounds has EB5.
08:27 am - Sat, October 18 2014
Rod, Benda's death opened the door to the revelations and scandal that have rocked the Rounds campaign and drawn national attention. But the big news we've gotten over the last few months has spread far beyond our questions about the crime scene investigation at the Benda farm and into real questions of policy, administrative oversight, and Mike Rounds's trustworthiness as an elected official. Just yesterday, a source told Denise Ross that EB-5 chief Joop Bollen was in control of Northern Beef's operations and finances and was making a mess of the project (( That was 2010, under Rounds, and Rounds took no action to stop Bollen. Instead, he poured more Future Fund money into NBP. That's why the national media are watching SD.

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