An Oct. 7 poll threw the South Dakota Senate race, at least momentarily, into the forefront of the national political conversation. Former GOP Sen. Larry Pressler, running as an independent, was polling at 32 percent, making it an almost even three-way race between Pressler, Republican Mike Rounds and Democrat Rick Weiland.
Democrats and allied outside groups started pouring money into what was supposed to be an easy GOP pick-up, and national Republicans got involved, too, a sign they were actually concerned. But now, some three weeks later, Pressler is fading and with him, hopes of Democrats stealing a seat they were never expected to compete for.
An NBC/Marist poll released Sunday showed Rounds with a 13-point lead over Weiland and it seemed apparent why: Pressler was attracting only 16 percent of the vote.
Another poll released on Monday, from the Argus Leader and KELO-TV, confirmed that Pressler’s support is now nowhere near where it was in the earlier polls. Rounds led with 43 percent in that poll, Weiland trailed with 33 percent and Pressler was down at 13 percent.
So why is Pressler fading? The NBC/Marist poll offers a hint: His support just isn’t as solid as that of partisan candidates Rounds and Weiland. Less than half of Pressler’s backers said that their support was strong, compared to 70 percent for Rounds and 66 percent for Weiland. Plus 17 percent of Pressler’s supporters said their vote could change, twice that of Rounds (6 percent) and Weiland (8 percent).
Third-party or independent candidates tend to drop off as Election Day approaches anyway — and both Democrats and Republicans have spent money in recent days attacking Pressler. Whatever the specific cause, the trend is now clearly in Rounds’ direction.
According to TPM’s PollTracker average, Rounds is currently at 47.2 percent, Weiland is at 25.7 percent and Pressler is at 16.7 percent.