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RV vs. minivan: Mode of travel becomes issue in Senate race

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When it comes to wooing voters in a political campaign, how a candidate dresses and what vehicle they arrive in can sway voters.

During his insurgent presidential bid in the 2012 campaign cycle, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., became the latest in a long line of politicians to make a pickup truck a central piece of his campaign message.

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South Dakota voters are about to hear about the vehicles of choice in the 2014 Senate race.

Democrat Rick Weiland, who has been getting around South Dakota in a 2007 Chrysler Town and Country minivan, released a 15-second video Monday contrasting the minivan to that of frontrunner Republican Mike Rounds' ride. Rounds' RV stretches twice the length of Weiland's vehicle and sports a shiny paint job declaring it the "Grassroots Express" with a logo that is part "R" and part elephant (the Republican Party mascot).

"I get around in this, while my opponent gets to stretch out in this," Weiland says in the video over images of the two vehicles.

Weiland so far has just released the video on YouTube and his Facebook page, but photos comparing the two vehicles sparked a social media debate last week, complete with the Weiland camp asking supporters to post a photo of the Rounds RV with "#Gra$$root$" on their personal social media accounts.

Longtime Rounds adviser Jason Glodt quickly responded to Weiland's Facebook post, saying he personally purchased the used RV for his family and is leasing it to the South Dakota Republican Party.

"Hey Rick, big money didn't buy the SDGOP Grassroots Express, I did. It is a 1999 that I bought for $18,900 (probably not much more than your minivan) on eBay so I could spend more time with my family. I am using it for the next few months as a mobile campaign office to help all Republicans on the ticket and the SD Republican Party reimburses me for mileage. I am just a hard-working taxpayer and I am not wealthy," Glodt wrote on Weiland's Facebook page.

Rounds said he does not see a problem with the RV and does not believe it will cause some voters to view him as the big-money candidate Weiland is trying to paint him as. He stressed that the vehicle is used and his campaign is not paying the mileage, the state Republican Party is.

"We have a joint account with them," Rounds said. "It's a great way to travel around."

The two-term governor said his grassroots campaigning has taken him to small coffee shops and, last week, a root beer ice cream social with the Lions Club in Volga.

Northern State University political science professor Jon Schaff said there are similarities to Democrat Paul Wellstone's successful bid to unseat an incumbent in 1990.

"Paul Wellstone had this cruddy bus, and he made the distinction: 'I'm the little guy,' " Schaff said.

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