Who’s To Blame For The Democratic Loss In South Dakota?

AP

Republicans have picked up another Senate seat in their quest for a majority, with Republican Mike Rounds beating Democrat Rick Weiland and independent Larry Pressler to succeed retiring Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), according to projections from CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press.

Despite a brief glimmer of hope for Democrats earlier this month, the South Dakota Senate race has ended as everyone expected it would. And Weiland’s supporters are laying the blame for the seat’s flip, as Rounds takes over for retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and national Democrats for their lack of commitment to the race.

The tension between the Weiland campaign and the national party has been simmering for months upon months. Reid and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) openly battled over the contest, with Daschle getting his preferred candidate in former aide Weiland. Ever since, the Weiland campaign, from the candidate down, have interpreted every move by the national party as an attempt to undermine his candidacy.

But others are pushing back against that characterization. Their main point? That glimmer of hope was just that — a glimmer. Most polling consistently found that the race was not competitive, and when it briefly was, national Democrats pumped resources into the race.

“It was never competitive,” one source familiar with the race told TPM. “At one brief point, there was an opportunity to make it competitive, but it didn’t last.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee invested $500,000 in Weiland’s candidacy, even if it was late in the game. Weiland was given the opportunity to address the DSCC’s top donors at the committee’s summer retreat in Martha’s Vineyard. And though he later chastised the DSCC for going negative against Rounds, TPM has been told Weiland wanted the committee to go after the Republican for the immigration-visa scandal that has dogged his campaign.

Despite all of that, Weiland went so far as to accuse the DSCC and Reid last week of sabotaging his campaign, even after they had entered the race when it looked like Weiland — in a close three-way race being upended by former GOP Sen. Pressler — had a chance at an unexpected upset.

“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,” Weiland told TPM in a phone interview last week. “They had a disclaimer, bought and paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Who do you think that’s going to affect?”

“No one had to tell me,” he continued. “This is, I would say, political strategy 101.”

Rumors have swirled, forwarded by Weiland himself, that Reid preferred Pressler over Weiland after his preferred candidate former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin declined to run in May 2013. He reportedly told colleagues that Weiland couldn’t win and the national party expended almost no resources on Weiland’s behalf until October.

“This whole thing has been a fucking fiasco, to put it bluntly, from the start,” one source supportive of Weiland told TPM. “I think what the DSCC has done is just criminal in terms of politics.”

Others were baffled that national Democrats had effectively surrendered a seat to Republicans, despite some polling suggesting that Weiland had an outside shot. Back in October 2013, the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling found Rounds up by just 6 points over Weiland. South Dakota Democrats think that should have led to a significant investment from the national party.

It wasn’t until last month, when polling showed an unexpectedly close race thanks to Pressler’s rise and a major outside group got involved, that the DSCC got heavily involved.

But the counter, as the race comes to a close, is that Weiland never really had much hope. Now Rounds looks to have coasted comfortably to victory.

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