The Senate race in South Dakota is unexpectedly tightening as the former Republican governor who had been leading the polls has been losing ground in a three-way race.
A new poll from Survey USA shows support among likely voters for Republican Mike Rounds falling to 35%, while Independent Larry Pressler is at 32%, and Democrat Rick Weiland is at 28%, according to the Aberdeen News, which commissioned the poll along with television stations KSFY News and KOTA. Tea party activist Gordon Howie, who’s also running as an Independent, is at 3%, while 2% remain undecided. The poll surveyed 616 likely voters and has a 4% margin of error.
Rounds has long been favored to win the seat, which is currently held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who is retiring. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid publicly wrote the race off as a loss, refusing to endorse Weiland, and most previous polls had Rounds leading by double digits.
But Rounds’s support appears to have fallen amid the growing controversy over a foreign investor visa program known as EB-5, which expanded under his term as governor. Investigators flagged suspicious financial transactions in the program, and the Rounds official who oversaw the program was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound before he was called to testify in front of a state grand jury last year.
Survey USA found that 56% of voters believe the former governor needs to say more about the EB-5 program, which gives green cards to foreign investors who sink at least $500,000 into economic development programs, provided that they create a certain number of U.S. jobs.
Both Pressler and Weiland have attacked Rounds over the EB-5 issue and his term as governor. Pressler is a former three-term Republican senator who lost the seat in 1996. He has since shifted to the left, having endorsed President Barack Obama, supported gay marriage, and defended the Affordable Care Act.
Pressler has not said which party he would caucus with if he were elected, which could confound the GOP’s hopes to take over the Senate if he prevails. The Independent’s candidacy also proven to be a particular challenge for Weiland, who had been coming in second to Rounds in most previous polls.
Weiland, however, has also received an unexpected boost this week: The crowd-funded Mayday PAC announced that it would be pouring $1 million into his campaign. Billing itself as “the super PAC to end all Super PACs,” the group is supporting Weiland for his stance against the Supreme Court campaign finance decision Citizens United and for his opposition to big money in politics.
With the race now tightening, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has decided to spend $1 million in South Dakota, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday. The money will go to both TV ad buys against Rounds and field operations.