Gordon Howie describes himself as the only true conservative in the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.

"I'm in this race because I believe South Dakotans deserve a conservative choice," Howie said in an interview Wednesday with The Daily Republic at the newspaper's office in Mitchell.

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Howie, 65, is a former Republican state senator from Rapid City who lost a bid for governor in 2010. Now, Howie is running as an independent candidate against former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, Democrat Rick Weiland and independent Larry Pressler

"The dynamics of this campaign are different. The mood of the country is different," Howie said. "So, I expect the outcome will be different as well."

Howie called Rounds, the race's likely front-runner, a moderate pretending to be conservative and criticized him for doubling the state's budget and increasing the state's deficit during his time as governor.

"That is not the mark of a conservative," Howie said.

If elected, Howie said he would work to stop the government's growth and to cut its spending, and to reduce and eliminate the national debt.

"You can't grow jobs and stimulate the economy when you're spending the nation into bankruptcy," he said.

Howie said he would also work on immigration, with a particular focus on securing the nation's borders.

"If we don't secure our border, all of the billions of dollars we throw at immigration reform is meaningless and little more than a diversion," he said.

Howie will return to Mitchell Wednesday to attend Dakotafest and participate in a debate with the other candidates for Johnson's seat.

"It's important for South Dakota voters to be able to see, hear and get to know these candidates," he said.

Howie, who lives on a ranch near Rapid City, said his campaign has focused especially hard on increasing his name recognition east of the Missouri River. It's a strategy Howie said he adopted for a simple reason.

"We're focusing significantly on East River because that's where most of the people are at," he said.

Despite the higher population in the eastern half of South Dakota, Howie said people across the state are asking for many of the same things from their elected officials.

"They want limited, responsible government," he said. "They want people who are focused on values."

During his campaign, Howie has traveled across the state in a motorhome adorned with campaign signs, which he said he often parks overnight in Walmart parking lots.

"The truth train out there gets a lot of honks," Howie said.