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Evans says he'll run for Senate

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — A Libertarian candidate who some say was a big factor in a 2002 U.S. Senate race in South Dakota could be a factor again next year.

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Kurt Evans, a Wessington Springs native, will seek the Senate seat held by Democrat Tim Johnson, who isn’t seeking re-election after three terms, the Argus Leader reported. “Every time you’ve got a third-party candidate running in the general election, the question always is, who’s he going to take votes from?” said Ken Blanchard, a political science professor at Northern State University.

“A Green Party candidate is going to take votes mostly from Democrats. If a Libertarian runs, you expect him to take votes mostly from Republicans.”

Some people think that’s what happened in 2002, when Republican John Thune lost to Johnson by just 524 votes — with Evans getting 3,070 votes.

Thune, who was elected to the Senate in 2004, said last year that he thinks Evans cost him the race in 2002. Four candidates have announced intentions to seek the GOP endorsement to run for Johnson’s seat: former Gov. Mike Rounds; state Sen. Larry Rhoden, of Union Center; state Rep. Stace Nelson, of Fulton; and Sioux Falls physician Annette Bosworth.

Rounds, who is widely considered the front-runner in the Republican primary race, said he is aware of Evans’ potential to hurt him.

“Any time you split the conservative vote in the general election, you could hurt the Republican candidate — particularly in close races as we saw in 2002,” Rounds said.

There’s only one Democratic candidate so far, Rick Weiland, of Sioux Falls. He was a staffer for former Sen. Tom Daschle and he unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1996. Political analysts say Weiland would have to make the race very close in order to benefit from Evans’ presence on the ballot.

“It’s really going to depend on how well the Weiland campaign develops,” said Bob Burns, a retired political science professor from South Dakota State University.

“If indeed he can narrow that gap that currently exists and make it a competitive race, then the presence of a Libertarian candidate, I think, can have an impact on the outcome.”

Weiland said that if Rounds is the Republican nominee, “Kurt Evans will set the modern-era record for most votes received by a third-party candidate. Mark it down.”

Rounds responded, “Time will tell.”