The Top 10 Political stories of 2014: #7 Larry Pressler contributes to Weiland drubbing for US Senate
In June, The headline at Roll Call blared “Quirky Ex-Senator Stomps on Democrats’ S.D. Hopes.” It ended up being Rick Weiland’s epitaph.
In the intervening years since he’d lost the US Senate Race, Larry Pressler had attempted comebacks. He’d briefly flirted with running for Mayor in Washington DC, and in 2002 for Congress. Nostalgia for Pressler was never that great with many Republican insiders, as they remembered his aloofness to the state GOP, which was sealed with Pressler’s endorsements of Tim Johnson and Barack Obama. Pressler resided in his own world in Washington DC’s beltway, and that was just fine.
But with Tim Johnson’s retirement, Pressler soon began making noise about running for his seat.
In the meantime, Rick Weiland had jumped in the race as a Democrat candidate who was well known among politicos to be one of this state’s most liberal Democrats. Yet, Weiland made great pains to avoid being typecast with that label, even going so far as to refusing to identify himself as a liberal when directly asked the question by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz.
Weiland’s relationship with national Democrats had been tempestuous from the very beginning when he pushed out the ever-cautios Stephanie Herseth Sandlin from a primary, which earned him the enmity of national dems, leading Senate leader Harry Reid coming out and telling everyone “he’s not my guy.”
Whether by accident or design, while Weiland getting shunned by DC, and refused to publicly identify himself as a liberal, Pressler had slid comfortably in the role of embracing President Obama and everything he stood for – actually capturing people who should have been all in on Weiland. As Weiland avoided Obama – Pressler was actively asking him to come to South Dakota.
It didn’t escape notice of the media, and soon there were people questioning whether Weiland should to drop out and support Pressler. It didn’t escape notice that the formerly conservative Pressler had now started stripping supporters from Weiland’s base, as Weiland was forced to make an emergency ad buy in July to try to shore up a base he previously had not had to defend.
Polling held up that they were competing for the same group of people, hopelessly splitting many of which Weiland should have been able to count on his own to make his numbers more competitive.
It didn’t help Weiland when he had people such as Native American publisher Tim Giago supporting Pressler and telling Weiland to “get out, you can’t win.” And national level liberal media such as the Daily Kos noting that with Pressler in the race, it was impossible for Weiland to win.
With Democrats claiming that Pressler and Weiland were competing for the same base, and Pressler openly embracing President Obama, it was all too easy for the GOP to swoop in and reinforce that a vote for one or the other was a vote for Obama, painting them with the same brush.
With many saying a vote for Pressler or Weiland was the same, and Weiland not distinguishing himself from Pressler, their vote was hopelessly and irretrievably split.
Coming in second, Weiland received 29.5% of the vote, and Pressler bled 17.1%. Had the vote not been split, that could have put Weiland somewhere in the 40% range versus Rounds, without Weiland having to spend money and focus to fend off Pressler. Which might have provided for a far better showing than the political career ending drubbing Weiland received.