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Voters say start of 2014 US Senate race 'way too early'

Mike Rounds

Mike Rounds said he was forced to announce early for the 2014 Senate race by federal laws on campaign fundraising.

"We had to comply with the FEC once we reached $5,000," he said. "You basically have to announce."

The Federal Election Commission mandates that candidates for federal office must file a statement of candidacy within 15 days of raising or spending $5,000.

"It became apparent if we wanted to do the fundraising, build our team, we would have to do this," Rounds said in a phone interview Thursday morning with The Daily Republic. "We needed to build our team across the state."

The former two-term governor, a Republican who also served in the state Senate, ended months of speculation Thursday by making campaign announcements in Pierre, Rapid City and Sioux Falls.

Sen. Tim Johnson, the three-term Democrat whose term ends in 2014, declined to officially declare a re-election candidacy but said, "I fully intend to put together a winning campaign." There had been speculation that Johnson, who turns 66 in December and has battled health issues, was not going to run, but he said he "feels great" and will make a formal announcement in 2013.

Rounds' statewide tour and trio of press conferences marks one of the earliest announcements for a South Dakota office in recent memory, occurring 23 days after the 2012 election, and 705 days before the Nov. 4, 2014, election.

Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia professor and the director of the UVA Center for Politics, is one of the most respected political analysts in the country.

Sabato said Rounds is correct that he needed to formally declare for office under federal rules.

"In terms of his own campaign, he's correct," he said.

But Sabato said Rounds could have directed supporters to donate money to the state Republican Party or to a political action committee (PAC) and held off announcing a candidacy.

He said the former governor enters the race with a lead.

"I think he's the favorite," Sabato said. "I don't know how much of a favorite." He said he was surprised to hear that Johnson is planning to run for a fourth term, especially in light of his health woes.

"But he's won close races before," Sabato said.

The early start to the 2014 campaign wasn't greeted with widespread approval Thursday in Mitchell.

"Too early, too early," Deb Rice and Jerry Luckett, both of Mitchell, said in unison when asked their views of the launch of the race nearly two years before the election.

"I won't be listening to anything they say," said Luckett, who said she knows both candidates. "It's way too early," Rice said.

That's exactly what Jim and Mary Rybak, of Pukwana, said while finishing their lunch at The Depot.

"Absolutely ridiculous," Jim Rybak said. "Sounds a little crazy to me, in my opinion," said Jake Voelker, of Mitchell. "We just got done with that."