Does Weiland make Noem more likely to run?

Rep. Kristi Noem has refused to rule out a run for U.S. Senate against Mike Rounds. Her decision here will have a big impact on the race, as the biggest Republican name out there who could challenge Rounds in the primary.

I think her chances of running this morning are considerably higher than they were 24 hours ago.

Why? It has to do with what I think are two of Noem’s key goals here:

1) She would like to be a U.S. Senator

2) She would like for the GOP to take South Dakota’s U.S. Senate seat

The problem is that with Mike Rounds already in the race, the two goals conflict somewhat — a bruising GOP primary could make it more difficult for whichever Republican wins to triumph in the general election.

But Rick Weiland’s candidacy eases that devil’s calculus a little bit.

That’s presuming you consider Weiland to be a less formidable general election candidate than either Brendan Johnson or Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. This point could be debated, but I’d bet Republicans agree with NBC News that whatever Weiland’s potential, he’s “not a top-tier candidate" compared to Herseth Sandlin and Johnson.

Weiland running for Senate means Republicans now face two dominant possibilities in terms of their Democratic opponent:

1) The Democrats nominate Weiland, seen as less formidable than Herseth Sandlin or Johnson

2) The Democrats nominate Herseth Sandlin, but only after she beats Weiland in a fierce primary

Either case would seem to strengthen the GOP hand over an alternative in which either Herseth Sandlin or Johnson cruises to an uncontested nomination.

And a strengthened GOP hand gives the party more margin for error. In other words, it makes the party better able to absorb a fierce primary of its own.

So if Kristi Noem is being held back from a Senate run by appeals to party loyalty, Weiland’s candidacy would ameliorate some of those concerns.

That leaves the primary obstacle being the personal uncertainty — giving up her current job, where she’s the incumbent and presumably has a better chance of winning than an open Senate seat primary battle against a popular former governor.

Noem’s still no lock to run for office. But whatever Stephanie Herseth Sandlin does, Rick Weiland has made Noem’s choice a little easier.