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SD Senate race: Rounds looms large

Mike Rounds

By Henry C. Jackson

SIOUX FALLS — As former Gov. Mike Rounds worked a room of young professionals, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate offered them a simple reason to vote for him Tuesday: The GOP is six seats away from controlling the Senate and retaking the body from the Democrats is a must.

The incumbent, Democrat Tim Johnson, is retiring. That’s presented the GOP with an enticing opportunity in a state where Republicans control state government, one of the Senate seats and the lone U.S. House seat.

Democrat Rick Weiland, who’s unopposed, has built a strong grassroots campaign reminiscent of his former boss, U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle.

But little outside money has come in to buoy the race. National Democrats have made no investment, in contrast to other races the party views as must-wins.

Outside groups have poured money into states such as Kentucky, where Democrats are trying to defeat the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and North Carolina, where Democrats are defending Sen. Kay Hagan. But they’ve stayed out of South Dakota.

But before taking on Weiland, Rounds must navigate a crowded Republican primary with four other candidates — two state legislators, a physician and an attorney in the Army Reserves.