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Poll shows Rounds leads Weiland by a 2-1 margin

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Rick Weiland2 / 3
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Former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds holds a commanding lead over his Democratic opponent for the 2014 U.S. Senate race, according to a poll released Friday.

Nielson Brothers Polling shows Rounds leading Rick Weiland, 54.3 to 27.1 percent, with 18.6 percent undecided. The NBP survey, conducted June 10-14, also asked Republican voters about a primary matchup between Rounds and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem.

Although Noem announced her decision not to run for the Senate midway through the polling,

NBP continued with a question about a potential primary race between Noem and Rounds, according to an NBP news release. In that theoretical matchup, among likely Republican voters, Rounds led Noem 55.7 percent to 28.9 percent, with 10.6 percent undecided and 4.7 percent saying "neither."

For Weiland, name recognition is an issue, as 50 percent of respondents say that they do not know his name. Of the remaining respondents, 21.7 percent have a favorable opinion of him and 17.2 percent an unfavorable opinion, with 11.1 percent "undecided." By contrast, 51.7 percent of respondents give Rounds a favorable rating, 29.1 percent unfavorable and 11.1 percent undecided. Eight percent say they do not know Rounds' name.

"This race hasn't even started yet. I am running against nine million dollar political campaigns," Rick Weiland said in an email response to The Daily Republic. "They are the way big money buys our Congress. They are the reason our country has been hijacked by special interests. Mike Rounds says he has to run a campaign with nine million big money dollars to win. I am going to convince everyday South Dakotans that we can take our country back and we'll find out who is right next year."

Noem spokeswoman Courtney Heitkamp responded by email:

"Regardless of the polling firm's record of accuracy, Rep. Noem isn't focused on any political polls. She is solely focused on tackling the biggest issues facing our country, including reining in out-of-control spending and passing a five-year farm bill that provides certainty for producers and needed reforms to American taxpayers."

Rounds repeated a statement he's used since his Cinderella primary win during the 2002 governor's race: "There's only one poll that counts, and it's on Election Day."

The two-term governor said he's not focused on his double-digit lead but on working hard in his campaign.

"For us, we use these polls for the cross-tabs," Rounds said, referring to the statistical breakdown of how different demographic groups responded to the poll questions. "Those show us where we've got work to do and what issues we need to explain further."

The cross-tabs from the Nielson Brothers survey were not publicly released.

Rounds said he's happy enough with the results -- "We'd rather be in our position than in anyone else's" -- but his focus is on following the plan his campaign has developed and playing the long game.

"This campaign has just begun. The general election is a year-and-a-half away," Rounds said.

The poll also asked South Dakota likely voters for their views on the state's direction, approval of elected officials, and favorability of candidates.

When asked about President Barack Obama's job performance, 41.4 percent of respondents approve (21.9 percent "strongly approve," 19.5 percent "somewhat approve"), versus 58.6 percent who disapprove (47.6 percent "strongly," 11.0 percent "somewhat").

These numbers are down from the final NBP public survey (Oct. 31-Nov. 4), leading up to the 2012 general election, when President Obama's overall approval was at 45.7 percent.

U.S. Sen. John Thune's approval is at 67 percent (32.1 percent "strongly") versus 33 percent disapproval (16.5 percent "strongly"); 56.2 percent of respondents approve of Noem's job performance (26.7 percent "strongly"), and 43.3 percent disapprove (26.8 percent "strongly"). Noem's numbers are similar to the NBP Oct. 31, 2012 survey findings, in which 55.5 percent approved.

NBP also asked about the direction of South Dakota. 49.2 percent say the state is going in the "right direction," 23.2 percent say "wrong direction" and 27.5 percent are "undecided." As in past surveys, opinions differ strongly by party affiliation with 58.4 percent of Republicans but only 42.3 percent of Democrats saying "right direction."

"Our June 2013 survey shows Mike Rounds to be a formidable candidate for South Dakota's U.S. Senate seat," says Paul Nielson, president of Nielson Brothers Polling.

"His Democratic opponent, Rick Weiland, has yet to build name recognition."

NBP surveyed a random selection of likely South Dakota voters in the recent survey. The number of responses affecting all likely voters ranges from 501 (with 4.38 margin of error) for the question on the state's direction, to 492 (with a 4.42 percent margin of error) for the question on preference of Rounds or Weiland for Senate.

The Republican primary question between Rounds and Noem drew 246 responses, from likely Republican voters, for a 6.26 percent margin of error.