Independent Larry Pressler Challenging Major Party Candidates in Tight S.D. Senate Race

When IVN contributor Eric Robinson spoke with independent U.S. Senate candidate Larry Pressler (South Dakota) in May, Pressler lagged far behind in the polls. Trailing in a distant third behind the two major-party candidates, he was struggling to raise money.

However, in the last few weeks of the campaign, things have changed.

Republican candidate Mike Rounds still leads in statewide polls with close to 40 percent, but some surveys differ as to whether Pressler or Democrat Rick Weiland is in second. While some polls have Pressler trailing by as much as 10 points, others, such as SurveyUSA, have Pressler in the lead by 4 points. Nielsen Brothers has him behind by only two points.

If it was a two-candidate race, some politicos suggest Pressler would be ahead in many polls.

The race has taken on an additional degree of added importance because the control of the Senate hangs in the balance.

While Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com still gives a 63.3 percent advantage to the Republicans to win control of the Senate, an independent upset in South Dakota could possibly upend these hopes. Pressler endorsed Obama in 2008 and 2012 and has said he will be a “friend of the administration” if elected — suggesting that he could choose to caucus with Democrats in the Senate.

Many more registered Democrats say they would consider supporting Pressler, compared to only 8 percent of Republicans.

As the race tightens, Republicans are sending in additional money to secure their candidate’s lead while Pressler still lacks funding. The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity recently attacked Pressler’s ‘liberal’ credentials with an ad targeting voters online.

However, as a former Republican U.S. representative for two terms and a U.S. senator for three terms (from 1975 to 1997), Pressler has deep ties with state voters and is drawing on these connections in his campaign.

Pressler has no campaign mailers and no yard signs. According to the campaign, he only has “one full-time staffer,” and that person is aided by a small cadre of volunteers.

Instead, he is relying on an unusual campaign strategy, which includes poetry readings, endorsements, and campaign events with men like former FBI agent John Good, who led the Abscam raids in the 1970s — featured in the critically-acclaimed 2013 movie, American Hustle.

These strategies, as opposed to the massive influx of cash from Republican and Democratic groups, further produce intrigue in Pressler’s independent campaign.

If Pressler has any real chance of winning, though, he has to overcome substantial historical precedent. The only independent candidate South Dakotans have elected was James H. Kyle in 1890, shortly after the state joined the union, and he soon joined the Populist Party after entering the Senate (eventually switching to the Republican Party when the Populist Party disintegrated).

Though his campaign tactics are unorthodox, they have broad appeal among voters. Pressler supports a ban on lobbyists from making campaign contributions to state races for the U.S. Senate and House, and supports South Dakota’s controversial restrictive abortion law.

A message that may resonate with many voters, however, is Pressler’s insistence that the political environment in the U.S. needs to return to how it was when he served in Congress. He argues it was a less ideological time and a time when money didn’t drive politics to the extent it does today.

Photo Source: Larry Pressler / Facebook