With polls suggesting tight races across the United States, which could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year, are beginning to trend slightly toward Republican candidates, Democrats are hoping to shake up the conventional wisdom by taking a likely GOP pickup opportunity right off the map. There’s just one problem with this strategy: In the process of attempting to split the conservative vote, Democrats are probably helping to consolidate it.
Despite a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee source telling The Hill in late September that it would be a waste of funds to commit any money to the three-way race in South Dakota between former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, former GOP Sen. Larry Pressler, and Democrat Rick Weiland, the DSCC decided to do just that this week. The national committee will commit up to $1 million to South Dakota that will be directed toward television advertising and ground operations.
But will that money go to support a candidate or merely to beat up Rounds and attempt to reduce his (rather significant, at the moment) support among South Dakota’s likely voters ahead of Election Day? Most presumed that the DSCC’s strategy would be the latter; Wieland has not proven an effective candidate and Pressler, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, could be counted on to caucus with the Democrats if elected.
Sound familiar? It should. This situation is quite similar to that which shook up the race for U.S. Senate in Kansas. While it is far too late for Wieland to drop out of the race in the same way that Democratic Kansas Senate nominee Chad Taylor did, he could elect to suspend his campaign and throw his support behind Pressler. It seems that the former Republican U.S. Senator is angling for just that outcome.
In an interview with The Hill published on Thursday, Pressler said that he would be a “friend of Obama” if he were to return to the Senate. He hinted that he would happily caucus with Democrats in order to ensure Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) remained the upper chamber’s majority leader. Pressler added that, while he is not an “Obama supporter” per se, he is a supporter of the Affordable Care Act.
This is an odd strategy. Rounds has been slipping in the polls of South Dakota recently, though only marginally, due in part to a scandal involving some of his appointees allegedly abusing funds for the state’s visas-for-investments program. “It may be like Watergate,” Pressler told The Hill.
But in the process of seeking to secure the support of Beltway Democrats, Pressler will surely alienate some of the conservative voters who had been backing him in order to cast a protest vote against Rounds.
According to a Survey USA poll, the only public surveys in recent weeks to show Rounds lead over his two opponents in single digit territory, Pressler’s support jumped from 25 percent last month to 32 percent today mostly due to the fact that some Republicans were starting to abandon Rounds. SUSA found Pressler securing the support of 31 percent of self-identified Republicans and 26 percent of self-described conservative voters.
I’m not a betting man but, if I were, I would not put much stock in upper Midwestern Republicans and conservatives voting in support of a repentant former Republican who backs Barack Obama, supports the Affordable Care Act, and would vote to ensure Harry Reid retains his role in the leadership.
Pressler and the Democrats do not appear to be playing a winning hand in South Dakota, but a glut of polls released on Wednesday – all of which show Republican candidates leading or rebounding against their left-of-center opponents – a Hail Mary may be the only play Democrats have left.