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Senate candidate Nelson wants to ruffle feathers

District 19 Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, meets with constituents Sunday afternoon at Hanson County High School’s gymnasium in Alexandria where he earlier announced his intentions to run for U.S. Senate in 2014. Nelson described himself as the most conservative, but least partisan, legislator in South Dakota, and the only candidate asked to run by many of his constituents. “I do not have aspirations, but I do have a public servant’s heart,” he said. (Candy DenOuden/The Daily Republic)

By Dirk Lammers

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Republican State Rep. Stace Nelson wasn't afraid to ruffle feathers during his four years in the state House, often opposing his own party leaders.

The former U.S. Marine now wants to take that determination to Washington to get Congress committed to cutting spending and reining in the federal government.

"The young Marine in me relished the battle of doing the right thing," Nelson said. "The old broken down Marine in me understood that was going to be a long fight. The thing I regret is I wish I would have accepted the responsibility to run sooner."

Nelson, 46, is one of five Republicans seeking the party's nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.

Also seeking the GOP nomination for the June 3 primary are former Gov. Mike Rounds, Yankton attorney and Army Reserves Maj. Jason Ravnsborg, state Sen. Larry Rhoden of Union Center and Sioux Falls physician Annette Bosworth.

Rounds is considered the front-runner for the seat, which provides a prime pickup opportunity for Republicans needing a net gain of six seats to takeover majority control of the U.S. Senate.

A semi-retired hobby farmer, Nelson served in the U.S. Marines in 1985-1999 and was a special agent in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in 1999-2008. He said his military background helps guide his world affairs views.

Nelson said he wants Congress to reassert itself as the authority on war powers, and he wants foreign military aid eliminated from the national defense budget. The U.S. should also be very selective in where it sends troops, he said.

"The only way I would vote to allow this country to engage in hostile actions across this world was if it immediately affected our national defense interests," Nelson said.

But Nelson's real motivation in jumping in the race is to push back against what he calls out-of-control spending adding to the national debt. Congress should look at across-the-board cuts, Nelson said, but he sees some "low hanging fruits" such as eliminating the Department of Energy and the Department of Education.

"Education should be a local-control issue," he said. "This is something we need to get the federal government out of."

Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University, said Nelson's fundraising hasn't been as strong as expected. He raised a little more than $31,000 during the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to more than $516,000 for Rounds.

But the state lawmaker has the strongest tea party support among the five Republican candidates and he has a constituency, and there's a chance Nelson could cobble that together into a plurality, Schaff said.

"He's also got a constituency that's extremely motivated, and on primary day, that matters," he said.

Nelson has sometimes crossed swords with Republican legislative leaders during his four years in the Legislature. 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 called each other liars during a committee hearing in 2012.

Nelson said he stands for principles, and he is willing to fight even when they differ from colleagues.

"It takes one person taking a principled stand," he said.