With a week to go before the election and polls showing the race slipping away from him, the Democratic nominee for Senate in South Dakota unleashed a tirade against national Democrats Monday, claiming that they had intentionally sabotaged his campaign in favor of the independent in the race, former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler.
“I can’t attribute this to (DSCC executive director) Guy Cecil or (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid or any of those other folks, but I know the chatter out there was they didn’t care if Weiland or Pressler won, and I think they felt like Pressler had a better path to victory,” Rick Weiland told TPM in a phone interview following a press conference in South Dakota where he unloaded on the DSCC. “They had a disclaimer, bought and paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Who do you think that’s going to affect?”
Weiland’s theory is that the DSCC is running negative TV ads against Republican nominee Mike Rounds in order to hurt Rounds and Weiland’s images and therefore boost Pressler, who has said he is open to caucusing with either party.
The DSCC declined to comment to TPM on Weiland’s statements, but has previously said publicly that it wants Weiland to win.
“No one had to tell me,” he continued when pressed about anything more tangible that he could point to to bolster his claims. “This is, I would say, political strategy 101.”
Weiland pointed to the long public history of Reid’s dissatisfaction with his candidacy as further evidence. Reid has said that he preferred a different candidate for the race and at one point said that it was “more than likely” that Democrats would lose the seat being vacated by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD). He also said that the DSCC had not lent any money to the state party, which it could if it wanted to boost get-out-the-vote efforts.
“I think that Harry Reid — I don’t know him very well — but his, you know — I have to choose my words carefully here — I do think that that has stuck with him that I got in this race and I wasn’t his preferred candidate,” Weiland said. “He didn’t do anything to help me once I got in. Publicly said I wasn’t his choice. … You don’t think that dries up your funding? When the majority leader of the United States Senate, who controls the political arm of the Democratic Senate Campaign Commitee says South Dakota’s a lost cause? You don’t think he said that on purpose to dry up my funding? Give me a break. Of course he did.”
Weiland pointed out that the DSCC got involved after other outside groups, like Harvard professor Larry Lessig’s MayDay PAC, had come to his aid. Polling also showed the race tightening as Pressler’s support surged, though that has tapered and Rounds is comfortably ahead in the most recent polling.
“All of a sudden the DSCC has an epiphany? Wow, we better get in now, we’re going to look foolish?” he continued. “I think they made a calculation, this is all conjecture on my part, but they made a calculation with the super PAC’s coming in. … They saw some dynamics there, and with Pressler, that it was worth coming in here, taking down Rounds, driving my negatives up, and maybe getting Larry in play.”
Weiland said that he had “zero communication with (the DSCC) since probably July,” though he acknowledged that he had called DSCC chair Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) last week to warn him that he would say in a debate that he would not support Reid for majority leader if elected. He also said that his campaign advisers had “made repeated calls” to Cecil and others. The campaign has had a “very difficult time with connecting with him,” Weiland said. “I don’t know if they’ve connected yet.”
He said he made the statements now because he believes that Pressler is still holding more Democratic support than Republican and Weiland thinks he’s got “a chance to bring the Democrats home” by Election Day.
But it’s clear Weiland doesn’t believe he’s doing it with the help of the national Democratic party.
“I’ll say this: It’s not like it should be when you’re the nominee of the Democratic Party here in South Dakota,” he said. “We asked them 14 months ago to help us with the ground game out here. … They just dismissed us.”