Dan Ahlers is eager to have South Dakotans get to know him.

Ahlers said his ability to work across party lines and connect with people regardless of politics or background are the main traits of his run for the state’s U.S. Senate seat in 2020, intending to challenge Republican Sen. Mike Rounds.

In a recent visit to The Daily Republic’s offices, the Democrat Ahlers said the economy, health care and education are the three issues he considers most important to his campaign and to South Dakotans. He said his six years of service in the state Legislature shows he has a track record of getting things done and working with Republicans.

“When I was in Pierre, I had to cross party lines and find people to work together, “ Ahlers said. “Republicans had a supermajority, I worked in a super-minority. But I was able to get things done.”

Dan Ahlers
Dan Ahlers

Ahlers, 46, is currently president of the Dell Rapids Chamber of Commerce and operated a video store for 20 years in the community. Ahlers served in the state House, starting in 2007. He had a two-year stint in the Senate starting in 2009, and again served in the House in 2017 and 2018.

He announced his candidacy in September and said he would be a candidate who can cut through partisanship.

“When you have people so divided, things don’t get done,” he said. “It seems to be getting worse and worse and there are so many things that are important to South Dakota’s economy, to our farmers, to our elderly, our veterans, that need to be looked at.”

Ahlers said he would be a voice for farmers, making decisions in their best interest on trade, ag issues and crop insurance. He said he sees immigration issues as being closely connected, noting that there are numerous businesses in South Dakota that are reliant on immigrant labor.

"It’s in our best interest to work on those situations,” he said. “Those are in our mutual interest to make changes, but also to have rules and laws that govern how we’re going to handle people who want to come to our country.”

On education, Ahlers said the inability of the federal government to adequately fund special education hurts South Dakota school districts, calling it a drain on schools. He also spoke about access to health care, in particular, the promises made to Native Americans and veterans to provide them with access to care.

"They’re not getting the health care that we promised them,” Ahlers said about veterans specifically. “Whatever requirements we put out there, it should be simple: If you served our country, you deserve access to VA health care. Period.”

Also running for the Democratic nomination is Clara Hart, of Sioux Falls, who said earlier in November she will challenge for Rounds’ seat. On the Republican side, state Rep. Scyller Borglum, of Rapid City, is challenging Rounds in the primary. In the 2014 general election, Rounds won easily with 50 percent of the vote in a four-candidate race, besting Democrat Rick Weiland by more than 20 percentage points.

The candidate filing deadline is March 31, 2020, while the primary election will be held June 2.

When asked about the impact of a maligned state Democratic Party -- which has had leadership and funding issues -- Ahlers said it will likely have an impact on his campaign but it’s something be believes he can overcome.

“It means I’ve got to work a little harder and do my best to get my message out there and to be an active candidate and be available to people,” he said.

He said he believes his background will help him resonate with all South Dakota voters.

“When you’re talking about social safety nets, affordable health care, I don’t think those issues apply to any one party,” Ahlers said. “In Pierre, I advocated for fiscal responsibility and brought tax reductions. The more people get to know me, the more you break down those barriers, you see those labels that go on Republicans and Democrats don’t necessarily apply to me.”