Last week, in the wake of new polling showing South Dakota’s three-way Senate race becoming surprisingly competitive, Republicans said they were unconcerned. Even as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reversed course and purchased $1 million in airtime, GOP officials insisted their polls showed former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) “with a low double-digit lead of 11 to 14 percentage points over independent Larry Pressler and Democrat Rick Weiland.”
It didn’t take long for Republicans’ confidence to disappear.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee is buying more than $750,000 in ads in South Dakota as they work to counter a $1 million investment from their Democratic counterparts, Politico reports.The money will try to help Republican nominee Mike Rounds’ chances in a tight multi-way Senate race – though it’s unclear whether the ads will boost Rounds, attack Democrat Rick Weiland or independent Larry Pressler, or a mix.
It’s a timely reminder: there is no bluffing in campaign politics at this point. It doesn’t matter what party operatives say; it matters what they do – or more to the point, where they send the checks. The fact that Republicans are making these expenditures removes all doubt about what the party thinks about this race.
The ads, which have not yet been released publicly, will begin airing tomorrow – just 21 days before Election Day. It will coincide with another pro-Republican ad buy from the American Chemistry Council, which is investing $205,000 in the race, and which will also have commercials hitting South Dakota airwaves starting tomorrow.
The interest isn’t hard to explain: Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take over control of the U.S. Senate, and when it comes to flipping seats from “blue” to “red,” the seats appear to be within the GOP’s grasp. But nearly all forecasts pointing to Republican success include a GOP victory in South Dakota – which was supposed to be one of the year’s easiest victories for Republicans, but which is now at risk of slipping away.
We talked in some detail last week about the increasingly volatile race, but to briefly recap, Rounds, the former governor, has seen his once-insurmountable lead evaporate in the wake of the “EB-5 scandal,” which relates to his tenure in office, and which continues to grow more serious. By some measures, only seven points now separates Rounds, Rick Weiland, the populist Democrat, and Larry Pressler, a former Republican senator running a shoestring campaign as an independent.
And before anyone assumes a red state like South Dakota couldn’t possibly elect a Democrat, let’s not forget that this open-seat contest will replace retiring Sen. Tim Johnson, a three-term Democrat. As recently as 2004, both of South Dakota’s U.S. senators were Dems.
For more on the changing dynamics of the race, msnbc’s Steve Kornacki spoke to both Weiland and Pressler in separate interviews over the weekend.