- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - As five Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls prepare to battle in a June primary, Democrat Rick Weiland has been busy racking up the miles.

The sole Democrat running for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Tim Johnson has been traveling to hundreds of small towns across South Dakota telling people he’s ready to fight for working families and against special interests.

Weiland said that, if elected, his first act would be to introduce a Constitutional amendment to give Congress the power to limit the raising and spending of money in federal elections. Many of the problems in Washington revolve around big money’s influence on the lawmaking process, he said.

“It’s the cornerstone of my campaign,” Weiland said. “You fix that problem - cut out the tumor - and there’s a good chance you’ll cure the ill. That’s what we need to do.”

Weliand, a Sioux Falls small business owner who once served as a staffer for former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, is unopposed on the Democratic side.

Five Republicans have entered the race. Former Gov. Mike Rounds, who is considered the front-runner, is being challenged in a June 3 primary by state Rep. Stace Nelson, of Fulton, state Sen. Larry Rhoden, of Union Center, Yankton attorney and soldier Jason Ravnsborg and Sioux Falls physician Annette Bosworth.

Former Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler, who served two terms in the House followed by three Senate terms from 1975 to 1997, is running as an independent.

Weiland, 55, has served as an executive for a nonprofit, owns a Sioux Falls restaurant and is a partner in a downtown night club. He said he believes in capitalism and the free markets, but the system has been warped to benefit very few.

“I believe in free enterprise, but I believe that big money has taken free enterprise and rigged it to its benefit,” Weiland said. “And that’s why you see this growing gap when it comes to wealth inequality and opportunity. It’s connected.”

The race’s Republican candidates are unanimous in wanting to appeal President Barack Obama’s new health care law. Weiland instead would like to allow people of any age to buy into Medicare, which now is generally open only to people 65 and older, as an alternative to private health insurance.

Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University, said Weiland has been working very hard and visiting a lot of places, “and he seems to have a lot of passion for this.” But Weiland’s progressive platform will be a tough sell in conservative South Dakota, Schaff said.

“He’s a Democrat in a Republican state in what is looking to be a pretty Republican year,” he said.

Schaff said Weiland’s fundraising has been better than expected, but the national Democrats have their hands full this year with about a dozen seats they have to vigorously defend.

“The national party has only so much money, and there are races that are going to be perceived to be a much higher priority than this race,” he said.


Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/ddlammers

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