SD Senate: Ex-GOP senator launches Independent bid

Larry Pressler

Republicans see the open U.S. Senate seat in South Dakota as part of their path to take by control of the chamber in the 2014 mid-term. But a former Republican senator could throw a wrench in those plans.

Larry Pressler, who describes himself as “moderately conservative,” announced last week that he is running for the seat as an Independent (emphasis added):

“Today, I am announcing that I am running for the United States Senate, and I intend to win,” Pressler said.

But Pressler, 71, a lifelong Republican who was in the GOP for his entire time in Congress, won’t be in that party’s crowded primary. Instead, he’d run as an independent, giving voters next November a third choice between presumed Democratic nominee Rick Weiland and the Republicans’ top candidate.

“I want to…end the poisonous bipartisan deadlock in Washington,” Pressler said this week.

Long a moderate Republican, Pressler broke with his own party in the past several years. He endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012. Today, he says he’s a “deficit hawk” who wants to balance the budget in part by cutting back on foreign military spending. That includes canceling unneeded weapons projects and closing some overseas bases.

Pressler’s endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 is a fact that will be well publicized by Republicans, who will likely nominate former Gov. Mike Rounds (R-SD).

But Republicans were hampered in 2010 and 2012 by a handful of third-party Senate candidacies, though not enough to tip the scale of power in the chamber. Jim Geraghty has already pointed out that Pressler’s candidacy could spell trouble for the GOP.

Stu Rothenberg isn’t so sure:

“It’s hard for me to believe that people are going to take Larry Pressler seriously as a contender for the United States Senate,” said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. “There will be some people who like the idea that he’s not a Republican or Democrat, and are so outraged with Washington that they say we need an independent. But it’s not as easy as that.”

Rothenberg said Pressler’s shift from Republican senator to endorsing Obama to now running as an independent might confuse voters and opens Pressler up to attacks. Pressler, too, predicted he’d be hit from all sides.

Polling in this race has been sparse. The most recent survey was conducted by Public Policy Polling in October, on the tail end of the government shutdown. That poll found Rounds with a 6-point lead, 40/34, over Rick Weiland, the likely Democratic nominee.

The catch in that poll was the presence of Kurt Evans, a Libertarian Party candidate who polled at 11%. He’s since withdrawn from the race, but Pressler, who still has name ID, could pick up disenfranchised voters as well as peel away some independents who may have otherwise voted for Rounds.

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