Weiland's campaign trail gets longer
ALEXANDRIA -- Rick Weiland sat down for breakfast Thursday at Joe's Cafe in Alexandria, where he talked politics with anyone who would listen.
It's a familiar scene for Weiland, who has traveled to all 311 cities and towns in South Dakota as the state's Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who is not seeking re-election.
It's been nearly two months since Weiland finished the task of making it to every city and town in South Dakota at least once during his campaign with an April 15 visit to Hudson, a town of fewer than 300 people in southeast Lincoln County. Now, Weiland is trying to visit all the state's cities and towns again before the Nov. 4 general election, in which he will face off against the Republican candidate, former Gov. Mike Rounds, and two independent candidates, former Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler and former state lawmaker Gordon Howie.
Weiland, a Sioux Falls restaurant owner who worked for former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, said in an interview Thursday the response from people the second time around has been as positive, if not more so, than the first.
"Now people know me," he said. "We're getting much better turnout."
Weiland said people seem to respect the work he put in to visit all of the state's cities and towns.
On Thursday, Weiland started the day with a visit to Alexandria, then went to Huron and Wessington Springs before he ended the day with a town hall meeting at the Cornerstone Coffee House and Deli in downtown Mitchell.
It's already been a long campaign trail for Weiland, and as time has gone on, the issues on the minds of South Dakotans have changed, he said. When the federal government entered a shutdown for 16 days last October, Weiland said residents were ready to throw every politician out of office.
"There was a lot of frustration, and I felt that everywhere," he said.
And when the launch of healthcare.gov -- the federal website through which people can apply for insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare -- was fraught with problems around the same time, Weiland said people were equally upset.
"It was a complete debacle," he said. "People were coming off the wall all about that. People were just very frustrated."
Weiland's campaign has centered around an effort to take money out of politics, especially elections, and to protect and expand Social Security and Medicare.
Weiland said he wasn't necessarily surprised by Rounds' victory in the five-way race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. Rounds won the June 3 primary with 55 percent of the votes. State Sen. Larry Rhoden got the second most votes in the race, with 18 percent.
"The only thing I was surprised about was for as much big money as Mike Rounds spent, that he didn't do better," Weiland said.
Weiland pointed out that Rounds raised about $2.8 million in campaign contributions, a much greater amount than any of the other candidates in the primary, and still lost 45 percent of the Republican vote.
"To me that was a little bit telling," he said.
Weiland, who himself has collected about $733,000 in contributions, said he truly believes he can beat Rounds.
"I don't think it's an impossible task or I wouldn't be in it," he said.
Weiland said he was encouraged by the primary defeat of House majority leader Eric Cantor, of Richmond, Va., who unexpectedly lost in Tuesday's vote to college economics professor David Brat, an activist in the tea party movement.
"I think people, whether you live in Virginia or here, are rejecting politics as usual," Weiland said. "They want to connect with the people who represent them in Washington."
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, R-S.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.