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Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland speaks to about 25 people at a town hall meeting Thursday afternoon at the Corner Stone Coffee House and Deli in downtown Mitchell. Listening are Donna Weiland, far left, and Joanne Hegg, both of Mitchell. (Chris Mueller/Republic)

Weiland betting on grassroots campaign

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If you live in South Dakota, Rick Weiland is coming to your town. He plans to visit all 311 cities and towns across South Dakota before the November 2014 general election. “I wouldn’t underestimate the power of a grassroots campaign,” Weiland said during a discussion Thursday with The Daily Republic’s editorial board.

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 He said nobody running for federal office in South Dakota has undertaken such an extensive grassroots campaign since Tom Daschle in 1978, when Daschle drove virtually everywhere in the state en route to winning a close race for a U.S. House seat.

 

 Weiland worked for Daschle, who went on to a long career in the Senate. Weiland is now the only announced Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who is not seeking re-election. Thursday, Weiland was in Hartford, Humboldt, Montrose, Salem and Alexandria before he arrived in Mitchell. He met with The Daily Republic’s editorial board at the newspaper’s office before hosting a town hall meeting at the Corner Stone Coffee House and Deli in downtown Mitchell. About 25 people attended the town hall meeting.

 

 Weiland acknowledged Daschle and George McGovern as campaign role models, and said he admired the way both “got out there and talked to the voters.”

 

 Weiland has been to more than 30 towns already, he said, and expects to have been to at least 50 by the end of the week. His message? “Take it back!” — the government, that is.

 

 “There is too much big money controlling what goes on,” he said.

 

 Weiland said he intends to protect and expand Social Security, not cut and destroy it.

 

 “Democrats have always stood for a strong, viable Medicare and Social Security program,” he said.

 

 Former governor Mike Rounds, state legislator Larry Rhoden and Sioux Falls physician Annette Bosworth, a Plankinton native, have announced their candidacies for the Senate seat on the Republican side.

 

 The primary election to choose a Republican candidate — and also a primary on the Democratic side, if other candidates emerge — will be in June.

 

 Weiland said he does not know if any other Democrats plan to join the race.

 

 Whatever happens in the primaries, he predicts a close election in November 2014.

 

 “Democrats are outnumbered here,” he said, “but we’ve elected a lot of Democrats to represent us, especially in Washington, D.C.”

 

 In response to Rounds’ goal to raise $9 million for his campaign, Weiland has asked his supporters to donate $9.

 

 “There is too much big money in politics,” he said. “I’ve been talking about it since I announced.”

 

 On the back of Weiland’s business cards is a proposed constitutional amendment to limit the raising and spending of money in federal elections.

 

 On Obamacare, Weiland said he is concerned with the amount of input large health care companies had on the legislation. Every citizen should be given the opportunity to buy into Medicare if they want, he said.

 

 The federal government, through Medicare, should reject the interests of large pharmaceutical companies and negotiate lower drug prices for seniors, Weiland said.

 

 When asked his stance on gun control at the town hall meeting, Weiland said he supports the Second Amendment, but is in favor of universal background checks for those people looking to buy a gun.

 

 “I don’t think that’s a radical position,” he said.

 

 As his potential Republican opponents prepare for a primary election, Weiland said he is focused on traveling and spreading awareness of his campaign.

 

 “Right now I’m unencumbered,” he said. “I’m lining up support every day.”

 

 Weiland is a Madison native who worked for Daschle’s House campaign in 1978, and later joined Daschle’s staff in 1980, according to a bio on Weiland’s website. In 1996, Weiland ran an unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. House seat against current U.S. Sen. John Thune, RS.D. In 2002, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination to run for U.S. House.

 

 In 1997, Weiland became a regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for a six-state region including South Dakota.

 

 He became the state director for the AARP in 2002, and in 2003 became a top executive for the International Code Council, an advocacy group for uniform building codes and building safety.

 

 In 2009, Weiland and his wife, Stacy, opened a restaurant in downtown Sioux Falls, and in 2011 became partners in a second business in the city.

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