A Surprise Senate Battleground: South Dakota : It's All Politics Democrats and pro-campaign-finance reform Mayday PAC are promising to spend $1 million each to defeat former GOP Gov. Mike Rounds.
NPR logo A Surprise Senate Battleground: South Dakota

A Surprise Senate Battleground: South Dakota

Former South Dakota GOP Gov. Mike Rounds is suddenly in a tough battle for an open Senate seat after Democrats and the Mayday PAC said they will spend $1 million each to defeat him. Nora Hertel/AP hide caption

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Nora Hertel/AP

Former South Dakota GOP Gov. Mike Rounds is suddenly in a tough battle for an open Senate seat after Democrats and the Mayday PAC said they will spend $1 million each to defeat him.

Nora Hertel/AP

For South Dakotans who have enjoyed a relatively low-key campaign season so far, your peace and quiet is about to end.

Both the Senate arm of the national Democratic Party and a crowd-sourced, anti-superPAC superPAC are preparing to flood the airwaves with ads backing Democratic candidate Rick Weiland and attacking former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds.

South Dakota was supposed to be one of three easy pickups for Republicans in their bid to take control of the Senate — which means it's just a matter of time before Republicans and their outside group allies respond in kind.

The flurry of activity comes after new polling that shows Rounds' big lead in the race has shrunk, with both Weiland and former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler within striking distance. Democratic Party leaders would be happy with either Weiland, a onetime aide to former Majority Leader Tom Daschle, or Pressler, who both in 2008 and 2012 endorsed President Obama.

South Dakota has been a generally reliable Republican state in recent years, but Rounds has been dragged down by investigations into a state agency's use of a visa program that gives green cards to wealthy foreigners who invest in United States businesses. Rounds promoted the plan as governor, but a major beneficiary went bankrupt amid allegations of corruption and self-dealing.

A spokeswoman at the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Rounds is in good shape and that it's a sign of Democrats' desperation that they are throwing money at a race in a state like South Dakota.

Both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Mayday PAC have said they will spend $1 million in South Dakota, although the Democratic money will also be used for voter turnout.

The state is about as inexpensive a media market as they come. An ad buy designed so that the typical viewer will see it 10 times in a week costs about $250,000 in South Dakota – a fraction of what it costs in states with big TV markets.

And while states like North Carolina and Colorado have seen tens of thousands of television ads so far this election, South Dakota had only seen about 12,000 through this week, at a total cost of $2 million, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

If those hoping to defeat Rounds spend as much as they say, and those hoping to elect him match that, South Dakotans could easily be subjected to twice that number of ads in the final three weeks of the campaign.