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MERCER: Warhorse Pressler looks for one more race

Bob Mercer, Capitol Correspondent  PIERRE — I received a telephone message, and then an email the other day from a self-described “voice from the past” inviting me to coffee.

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They were from Larry Pressler. He was asking if I was available late Monday afternoon for a cup of coffee. I instantly reached a conclusion.

He was attempting another run for public office.

Later in the afternoon, I read another reporter’s account of the conversation that reporter had earlier in the day with the former U.S. senator.

Sure enough, now 71 years old and out of office since his 1996 defeat, Larry Pressler was looking for the voters’ love just one more time.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t meet him on Monday afternoon. That wild and crazy bunch known as the Legislature’s Executive Board has a two-day meeting Monday and Tuesday.

After the way that Legislative Research Council director Jim Fry was shown the door back on Sept. 25, who knows which person might next be investigated or fired or hired?

And for those of you now thinking: “Hmm, how about Pressler for LRC director?” — well, just don’t go there. He never served in the Legislature.

But Larry Pressler did serve in Vietnam. And he served four years in the old East River seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 through 1978.

And he seems to have influenced the thinking of then-U.S. Sen. Jim Abourezk, a Democrat who decided he didn’t want to seek re-election in 1978 as Pressler, a Republican, ramped up to run for the seat held by Abourezk.

Larry Pressler lasted 18 years as a U.S. senator from South Dakota. He lost, barely, in 1996 to a Democratic congressman named Tim Johnson.

The get out the vote techniques mastered by Democratic congressman Sen. Tom Daschle in 1986 to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Abdnor were employed on Johnson’s behalf 10 years later. Johnson won 166,533 to 157,954.

Johnson is now wrapping up his third term as a senator. He won’t seek re-election in 2014. And Pressler is interested in trying to get back into that seat.

Pressler tried to re-start his political career in 2002. He ran for the open seat for the House that was being vacated by Republican John Thune to challenge Johnson. Stephanie Herseth — she wasn’t yet Herseth Sandlin — won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House with 58 percent of the vote. Placing second in the four-candidate Democratic primary was Rick Weiland with 32 percent.

Now Weiland is the only Democrat announced for the Senate in 2014. Then-Gov. Bill Janklow won the Republican nomination for House with just about 55 percent. In second place in the five-candidate primary was Pressler with 27 percent. The Republican primary for Senate in 2014 has four candidates campaigning: former Gov. Mike Rounds, state Sen. Larry Rhoden, state Rep. Stace Nelson and newcomer Annette Bosworth. None has served in Congress. Pressler is pondering an independent candidacy instead. He knows the tremendous growth in voter registration has been among independents since 2002.

To borrow a slogan from the ’70s: Larry Pressler — now more than ever? Strange things sometimes happen.