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SD State Rep. Stace Nelson to make US Senate run

PIERRE (AP) — State Rep. Stace Nelson, who often has quarreled with party leaders in the South Dakota Legislature, said Tuesday he will seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate because Congress needs someone who will stick to promises to oppose increased taxes and government spending.

Nelson, of Fulton, joins a crowded field seeking the GOP Senate nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Tim Johnson. Former Gov. Mike Rounds is considered the front-runner. Other Republicans in the race are state Sen. Larry Rhoden, of Union Center, and Sioux Falls physician Annette Bosworth.

“I know how David felt when he was asked to take on Goliath,” Nelson told The Associated Press.

Nelson announced his intentions by sending a series of emails beginning about 2 a.m. Tuesday, saying he will hold events in Alexandria and Rapid City on Aug. 18 to formally launch his campaign.

Nelson, 46, was in the U.S. Marines in 1985-1999, was a special agent in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in 1999-2008 and now describes himself as a semi-retired hobby farmer. He said he has no political aspirations but decided to enter the race at the request of conservatives.

Nelson said Rounds and Rhoden increased state taxes and spending while Rounds was governor and Rhoden was a state lawmaker. He said they are professional politicians who would likely boost taxes and spending if elected to the Senate.

“The bottom line is our country is in dire straits,” Nelson said. “The problem is we cannot afford to send these professional politicians to D.C. and have them do the same thing they've done in Pierre.”

Mitch Krebs, communications director for the Rounds campaign, declined to comment directly on Nelson's charges, but Rounds has said the Legislature passed state budgets that spent more than he had recommended in five of his eight years as governor. Rhoden said he has worked in the Legislature to cut property taxes and defeat a proposed increase in the sales tax.

“Overall, my record I think speaks for itself,” Rhoden said.

In his three years in the Legislature, Nelson has sometimes crossed swords with Republican legislative leaders. In 2011, Nelson and several other lawmakers accused GOP leaders of asking legislative staff to reveal confidential information about research and bill drafting done for other lawmakers, but an investigation found those charges were unfounded. Nelson and House Republican Leader David Lust of Rapid City accused each other of being liars during a committee hearing last year.

Nelson said Tuesday he's never been afraid of ruffling feathers in the Legislature. He said he has followed his beliefs, not the party line.

“I'm probably the most conservative elected official in the state of South Dakota, and I'm also probably the least partisan,” he said.

Former South Dakota State University political science professor Bob Burns said Nelson and Rhoden likely will split the conservative tea party vote in next year's primary, giving Rounds an advantage. The top vote-getter in a Senate primary with three or more candidates can win with only 35 percent of the vote.

Burns said he is a little surprised that Nelson is entering the primary race.

“I guess what it says is that while those who are learning toward tea party ideology may have common beliefs, they also have their individual ambitions,” Burns said.