- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2014

With control of the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, Democrats are suddenly plowing big bucks into a Senate race in South Dakota that they had long ago written off.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee confirmed Thursday that it is injecting $1 million into the state to help the party’s Senate nominee.

The long-shot hope rests on polling suggesting that Republican and independent voters in the mostly red state will be divided between the GOP and independent nominees, opening a door for the Democrat to win with a plurality of votes.

The move stunned Republicans, who mocked it as the equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass.

“Just last week the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said that their ‘internal polls’ showed they could not win in South Dakota, but now they’re throwing money in the race?” said Brook Hougesen, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “It’s a sign of desperation and suggests that other states they need to win are slipping away. They’re flailing.”

The first public clue to what is driving the Democrats to divert money from other desperately important contests was a new poll that shook up Republicans both in the state and in Washington.

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The poll’s surprise finding was that former Gov. Mike Rounds, the Republican nominee, is leading former Sen. Larry Pressler, a Republican now running as an independent, by alarmingly few points, while Democrat nominee Rick Weiland still trails the field.

It’s all stranger than fiction because the $1 million the DSCC is spending will be enough to saturate TV in the small state with Democratic attack ads on Mr. Rounds but with the benefit most likely to move to Mr. Pressler, who has been picking up independent voters and a few Democrats. The hope is to damage Mr. Rounds, depressing Republican turnout and letting Mr. Weiland or Mr. Pressler squeak through.

Mr. Pressler, 72, in the eyes of many Republicans, has become increasingly liberal since he last represented South Dakota in the Senate as a Republican in 1997.

He has said he supported President Obama, the Affordable Health Care Act and raising the minimum wage. He has not said he will caucus with his old party if elected. If he caucuses with the Democrats, it could give them the one seat they might need to retain control of the Senate.

Mr. Rounds, 59, who twice won election as governor, has been out of office since 2011, but recently has been linked, indirectly at least, to a possible financial scandal involving a former appointee.

If the Democrats persuade their candidate to drop out, Mr. Pressler likely will be the next junior senator from South Dakota, at least based on successive polls by Survey USA of 616 likely South Dakota voters.

The Oct. 1-5 polls found 35 percent for Mr. Rounds, 32 percent for Mr. Pressler and 28 percent for Mr. Weiland. The poll has an error margin of 4 percentage points.

The same Survey USA poll a month ago had Mr. Rounds at 39 percent, Mr. Weiland at 28 percent and Mr. Pressler at 25 percent.

The Aberdeen News reported that, according to the latest poll, if Mr. Weiland, 56, the Democrat, drops out, then 71 percent of his supporters claim they would vote for Mr. Pressler, with just 9 percent of them backing Mr. Rounds. The upshot would be that a 54 percent-39 percent edge for Mr. Pressler over Mr. Rounds.

If Mr. Pressler could be persuaded to drop out, Mr. Rounds would have a sure win. But that’s not going to happen, according to South Dakota Republican Chairman Craig Lawrence.

“He’s not a bad guy — just wants back in the limelight, but he’s in it to win. He won’t [drop out],” Mr. Lawrence told The Washington Times.

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