South Dakota politicos prep for Mike Rounds' returnFormer governor will make 2014 Senate announcement Thursday
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Mike Rounds will announce his candidacy Thursday for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Either that, or the former governor is planning to tour the state and hold three press conferences to announce he is not running for the seat now held by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.
Rounds, a Republican, will make his initial announcement at 8:30 a.m. today at the Riv-er Center Annex’s Highland Room, 808 W. Sioux Ave., Pierre. His father, Don Rounds, 85, will introduce him.
Mike Rounds will then head to Rapid City for an 11:30 a.m. Mountain time announcement at Casey Peterson & Associates, 909 Saint Joseph St. He will wrap up his press tour with a 4 p.m. press conference in Sioux Falls at the University Center’s Avera Hall, 4801 N. Career Ave.
The trio of press conferences comes after months of speculation that Rounds was preparing a Senate campaign. It was speculation that he fueled with interviews, speeches, the launch of the Peter Norbeck Political Action Committee in 2011, and finally when he formed a 2014 exploratory committee earlier this year.
Through his PAC, Rounds donated money to numerous legislative candidates, including all three Mitchell legislators, state Sen. Mike Vehle and Reps. Lance Carson and Tona Rozum, all fellow Republicans.
Rounds also hired his former chief of staff, Rob Skjonsberg, to serve as chief of staff for Fischer, Rounds & Associates, an insurance and real estate business, headquartered in Pierre with locations in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Mitchell and Watertown. Rounds is the president and CEO of the firm.
Skjonsberg, who said almost a year ago that he had reserved the online addresses RoundsforSenate.com and RoundsforSouthDakota.com, issued the press release announcing Rounds’ statewide tour today.
It was titled, “Rounds to Make Formal Announcement Regarding U.S. Senate Candidacy.”
Rounds, 58, served 10 years in the Legislature as a state senator from District 24. He left the South Dakota Senate in 2001 and considered a run for U.S. Senate against Johnson. But he changed his mind and threw his hat in the ring for the Republican nomination for governor in 2002.
Rounds was the underdog, trailing then-Attorney General Mark Barnett and former Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby in the polls and in fundraising. But while Barnett and Kirby savaged each other with negative advertising, Rounds ran as a likeable underdog.
He amazed political observers by winning the nomination and then easily bested University of South Dakota President Jim Abbott, the Democratic candidate. Rounds breezed to a second term in 2006, defeating Democrat Jack Billion.
In 2006, Rounds, a Catholic, signed a bill outlawing all abortions in South Dakota except in the case of rape, incest or the health of the mother. It was never implemented after it was referred to a vote, and the law was rejected by voters that fall.
Rounds championed converting the former Homestake gold mine into an underground science lab and oversaw the first execution in the state in 60 years when Elijah Page was put to death in 2007.
Rounds may face a challenge within his own party. U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem just won her second term, and the Republican congresswoman has never denied an interest in serving in the Senate.
On Wednesday, her spokeswoman, Andrea McCarthy, said Noem and her staff will watch to see what Rounds has to say.
“Who knows?” McCarthy said. “It’s all speculation. It’s only been a few weeks since Rep. Noem was re-elected, and it’s too early to be talking about another campaign. Right now she is fully focused on passing a farm bill and finding solutions to fix the country’s fiscal problem.”
Perry Plumart, Sen. Johnson’s communications director, had a terse response when asked about Rounds’ press conferences and Johnson’s future.
“We look forward to seeing what he announces tomorrow,” Plumart said twice. “That’s all I have for you.”
Johnson, 65, has never lost an election. He served eight years in the Legislature, 10 years in Congress and is in his third term in the Senate. Johnson suffered a brain bleed in December 2006 that left him near death, but he recovered to return to the Senate and win another term in 2008.
He has repeatedly declined to say if he will run in 2014. Earlier this week, The Hill, a Washington, D.C., website and newspaper, reported he was one of four Democratic senators who were expected by party officials to retire in 2014.
The others are Sens. Jay Rockefeller, of West Virginia, Frank Lautenberg, of New Jersey, and Tom Harkin, of Iowa.
If Johnson does step aside, speculation has been that former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who served in Congress from 2004 to 2011, would consider seeking the Democratic Senate nomination, or that Johnson’s son, South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, would seek to replace his father in the Senate.