With the announced retirement of South Dakota U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D) back in March, it seemed that a takeover of the seat by Republicans was all but certain due to a lack of viable Democratic candidates. However, the surprise reemergence of former Republican Senator Larry Pressler, now running to reclaim his seat as an independent, has served to make the race more interesting
"What I'm trying to do is win," said Larry Pressler in an interview for IVN. "I'm not worried about other candidates. I'm saying what I believe, as I always have, and I'm campaigning as well as I can. I hope to spoil the poisonous system between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C."Serving two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and three terms in the U.S. Senate, Pressler was previously a moderate Republican mainly known for being the only one of 9 members of Congress to refuse a bribe from undercover FBI agents in the 1980 Abscam Investigations (depicted in the movie
American Hustle), as well as his work in telecommunications reform. His career in the Senate came to an end when Johnson defeated him in a close 1996 race.
Then in December 2013, long after an attempted political comeback in 2002 and an active post-Senate political life which included reaching across the political aisle to endorse President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and signing an amicus curiae brief in support of same-sex marriage during the Supreme Court's Hollingsworth v. Perry, Pressler announced his candidacy.
So far, Pressler has been critical of both major parties in his campaign.
"I feel both parties have become a little bankrupt on new ideas," he said. "I'm running as an independent because I want to end the poisonous disputes between Republicans and Democrats."
He also stated that he's using Senator Angus King (I-ME) as a model for what he would like to do in office, admiring his ability to work on several budgetary settlements and hoping that King would be willing to caucus with the Republicans "next time around."
Yet, he isn't willing to discount political parties completely.
"Well, we need parties," Pressler remarked. "In the past, the two-party system has served us well. But for some reason, we are in a point in American history where there is a poisonous hatred between the two parties on issues."
For example, Obamacare is condemned by all Republicans and praised by Democrats. But if Romney won the election, we would have Romneycare which is almost the same thing and all the Democrats would, I suppose, oppose it and all the Republicans would praise it. That's true in so many debates we have: they're really not about issues, but about which party gets credit, or which party has the idea first, or which party is in control, or so forth."
Pressler is facing extremely heavy competition from former Republican Governor Mike Rounds and Democrat Rick Weiland. An April PPP poll had Rounds at 51 percent, Weiland at 28 percent, and Pressler at 15 percent. Yet despite this, he refuses to engage in any partisan attacks on his opponents.
"While I see that both Mr. Weiland and Mr. Rounds are fine men, I haven't said a word against either of them. I wish them well in their careers," Pressler said.He added, though, that if either man became a senator, Republican or Democrat, his main concern is the influence all the money they have taken will have. With so much money coming in from special interests and the parties, his major party opponents "will have to fall in on basic votes in terms of behavior in the Senate."
Campaign finance reports also reveal a daunting forecast for the Pressler campaign. Rounds and Weiland have both outspent Pressler by enormous margins.
"I'm getting very little money. That's my main problem running as an independent," Pressler commented. "It's very hard for an independent to raise money."
He added that the reason for this is because the parties and the people who give money expect something in return and when it comes to Pressler, an independent, they are not sure they will get anything in return.
Despite all of this, Pressler remains quite optimistic. His 17 percent support is "astoundingly high" when coupled with the fact that he hasn't "been on TV yet." A recent endorsement from The Centrist Project Voice also made Pressler feel "very honored."
"We probably don't agree on absolutely everything," Pressler said. "But I am an independent. I am environmentally concerned. On fiscal matters, I would describe myself as a moderate conservative. I want to do something about our deficit. But I also want our country to be environmentally clean and I want it to have equal rights."
Photo Credit: Rapid City Journal