- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - U.S. Sen. John Thune and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, the two South Dakota federal officials up for re-election in 2016, have substantial cash reserves more than a year-and-a-half ahead of Election Day.

Recently released 2014 year-end Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports show Thune was sitting on an eye-popping $9.7 million, the third-highest sum in the Senate, and Noem had roughly $800,000 in the bank, her strongest start to an election cycle since she first ran in 2010. Democrats say they hope to run 2016 candidates against Noem and Thune - he was unopposed in 2010 - but acknowledge the difficulties of unseating either one.

“They don’t scream out as being competitive,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said of the races.

Thune’s campaign declined to comment on his reserves. Noem raised nearly $2.4 million through the end of 2014 and spent more than $1.6 million.

“We feel great about where she is,” Noem campaign consultant Justin Brasell said. “We feel good about what we’ve accomplished, and we want to keep adding to Congresswoman Noem’s level of support in the state.”

South Dakota Democratic Party Chairwoman Ann Tornberg called their bank accounts “formidable,” but said the party is working hard to put a Democrat back in South Dakota’s congressional delegation.

Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth, who unsuccessfully ran in December to chair the state Democratic party, said he thinks Democrats made a mistake allowing Thune to run unopposed in 2010. He said those seats shouldn’t be given up without a fight, but acknowledged his party’s disadvantage in the state.

“There’s always the chance too that someone might give up their seat, whether it’s Kristi Noem or John Thune,” Barth said.

Freshman U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, who fills out South Dakota’s Republican congressional trio, ended 2014 with about $80,000 in the bank and $136,000 in debt. Rounds’ bumpy path to the U.S. Senate in 2014 at times appeared competitive, but he triumphed on Election Day by roughly 20 points. Rounds won’t face re-election until 2020.

Rounds ultimately raised nearly $5.2 million through the end of 2014 and spent just over $5 million. Rob Skjonsberg, campaign manager for Rounds, was unavailable for comment.

Campaign finance reports for Rick Weiland, a Democrat who ran against Rounds, appeared to have inaccuracies, and Weiland said he is reviewing them.

Larry Pressler, a former U.S. senator and one of two independent candidates who vied for the seat, ended the year with about $21,000 in the bank and $250,000 in debt. Pressler said he may just have to forgive the debt, which is from a personal loan.

“It was an expensive proposition, but I wanted to run and use up some of my savings,” Pressler said. “I enjoyed being on the campaign trail. I got to drive all over South Dakota. We saw the state again, and it was a great experience.”


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