Since the DC media has determined that the Senate is lost, I thought I’d pick a local race that I know a little bit about to explain how things aren’t quite that dire.
Rick Weiland is running for Senate in South Dakota. Rick is a political veteran (he was Daschle’s state director), so it’s worth looking at his campaign for a smart approach to winning in what’s become a very red state.
First, recognize that Rick has a huge task ahead of him. He’s running to replace the last Democrat in federal office in the state, retiring Senator Tim Johnson. Johnson has an interesting personal story: in 2008, he ran after recently recovering from a stroke and subsequent brain surgery that left him with severe physical and speech limitations, which he worked hard to overcome. Facing an incumbent with that story is tough as a challenger, so Johnson’s opponent was second-tier Republican in a year where the state was carpeted with Obama volunteers who relentlessly canvassed and re-canvassed possible voters.
2014 will not be a year like that. Weiland will probably face popular former governor Mike Rounds. Weiland’s not a household name. South Dakota was one of the states that rejected Medicaid and tried to push a partial expansion, which the evil Obama administration rejected. The legislature is beet red and spends most of its time inventing new ways to ban abortion, there is one Democrat in constitutional office (elected PUC Chairman Gary Hanson), and the Governor has been a Republican since the late 70’s.
Nevertheless, Weiland is running a good campaign. He’s visiting every town in the state (a mammoth task). He’s made a bit of a virtue of necessity by picking campaign finance reform as a key issue, which will allow him to paint Rounds as the species of carpetbagger who is beholden to out-of-state money. He will no doubt run as good a campaign as a Democrat can in that state. My old man, who has seen a lot of Democrats come and go, attended one of Weiland’s town visits and was impressed by Weiland’s energy and commitment.
This is the effort that Democrats are putting into a race that’s pretty much been ceded to whoever wins the Republican primary by the national media. Winning the morning at Politico is not going to translate into an easy Republican victory in South Dakota.