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Nelson sees public office as his duty

*Editor's note: This is the second installment of a series of five profiles on the candidates running in the June 3 primary for South Dakota's Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

For two-term state lawmaker Stace Nelson, of Fulton, seeking and holding public office is his duty to his country.

It's a natural extension of his entry into the Marine Corps when, at age 18, he signed up for military service as he was preparing to graduate from Mitchell High School in 1985.

"I'm not that sparkly eyed kid who joined the Marine Corps any more. I understood what people were asking me to take on," Nelson said of his candidacy in South Dakota's U.S. Senate race. "I looked for other people to run and encouraged others. It is such a herculean task to take on special interests trying to buy our U.S. Senate election."

Nelson, 47, is one of five Republicans seeking his party's nomination in the June 3 primary. When Nelson entered the race in August, he was the fourth challenger to former Gov. Mike Rounds, who remains favored to win. State Sen. Larry Rhoden, physician Annette Bosworth had become candidates, and since then lawyer Jason Ravnsborg have entered the race.

Washington, D.C., is not where Nelson wants to spend much time, he says, but he felt a duty to challenge Rounds, who he sees as not conservative enough.

"I felt guilty for not immediately rising to the challenge," Nelson said. "But I did see the need for an honest public servant."

Nelson spent 14 years in the Marine Corps, achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant. He then worked a decade as a federal law enforcement agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, investigating cases ranging from counter-terrorism to rape. He retired in 2008. In 2010, he was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives and is serving his second term.

Nelson and his wife Aiza have been married for six years. He has four daughters -- Lindi, 28, Meg, 21, Erika, 19 and Thomina, 17 -- and two sons -- Shawn, 26, and Le, 21.

His interest in politics dates back to his youth, and he sent campaign contributions to the Republican Party and candidates from his overseas military posts. He voted absentee while overseas and was overcome with emotion when he first got to vote in a South Dakota voting booth in 2008 election.

"I was moved to tears to be able to be home finally and actually vote at a voting booth. All those years I had to vote absentee. To be able to go into my hometown polling place and cast your vote, it was very sentimental to me," Nelson said.

What moves Nelson these days is a distaste for politicians who cozy up to special interests, a description which he believes fits Rounds and his pledge to raise $9 million, most of that from out of state.

"We've shown that a grassroots honest public servant can take on a $9 million and bought-and-paid-for career politician. We've got to keep that alive in South Dakota," Nelson said. "All of us should be offended that East Coast special interests are trying to dictate to us who our next senator should be. That is exactly what the problem is in American politics."

Nelson's criticism of Rounds ranges from his administration's efforts to enact Obamacare to expanding the number of employees on the state payroll to his devotion to the federal EB-5 economic development program that funnels foreign investments to local projects.

He's frustrated that media coverage and paid campaign advertising haven't painted the picture he sees. But he continues to push his message that he is the "true conservative" in the race.

"Mike Rounds is able to literally drown out the truth with the millions he's pouring into dishonest ads," Nelson said. "I've actually got a voting record when I tell voters I'm the true conservative. Others, they've got a record they've done exactly the opposite."

Voters will select one of the five Republican candidates running in the June 3 primary to move on to the general election, held in November. Other candidates to file for the race are independents Clayton Walker, former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler and Democrat Rick Weiland.