FiveThirtyEight: 90% chance of Republican winning South Dakota’s Senate seat

Stats whiz Nate Silver, who has a good (but not perfect) track record predicting the outcomes of political races, has released his initial forecasts for the 2014 U.S. Senate battle.

Overall, Silver says the Republicans are “slight favorites” to win control of the Senate, and gives them a 90 percent chance to win South Dakota’s Democrat-held Senate seat.

Silver notes that this forecast is preliminary and can change rapidly — shifts in the national political environment could give either party an advantage quickly. Further, compared to forecasts he makes closer to the election, he says there’s a larger amount of finessing and subjectivity in this early prediction.

Here’s what he says about South Dakota:

We also give Republicans a 90 percent chance of winning South Dakota. It’s a more straightforward case, except that the presumptive Republican nominee, Gov. Mike Rounds, has been caught up in a controversy over the state’s participation in the EB-5 immigration visa program. To have much of a chance, Democrats will either need Rounds to lose the Republican primary or be significantly damaged by it.

So far there’s not many signs of that happening. Early voting starts very soon, and Rounds’ Republican rivals need to start closing the gap, and quickly, if they want to have a chance at winning.

(Alternately, Rick Weiland or his allies could lend Rounds’ intra-party rivals a hand by launching attacks on him now. Advertising in the other party’s primary is an unusual tactic but one that has paid dividends in the past — Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill won a tough race in 2012 in part by running ads in the GOP primary that slyly boosted the chances of Todd Akin, the eventual winner her team saw as the weakest candidate. Of course, a wide-open three-way primary isn’t the same as a race with a clear favorite, like Rounds is in South Dakota.)

Read Silver’s full forecast here.

Visualizing U.S. Senate fundraising

People who have followed fundraising totals in South Dakota’s U.S. Senate race know the basic facts: Mike Rounds has raised by far the most, Nelson and Rhoden have raised the least, Weiland has been steady but unimpressive, and Bosworth has raised a lot of money from nationwide donors in unusual circumstances.

But here’s a way to visualize that fundraising at a glance. I used a tool called a heat map, which represents the density of points on a table, to map the cities the five candidates have raised money from. (This isn’t counting unitemized donations.)

Here, for example, is Stace Nelson's fundraising heat map:

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(Larger interactive version) You can see Nelson has raised almost all his money in South Dakota, in a series of scattered clumps — not too much money in any one place. He also has a big clump in the Mitchell area, Nelson’s back yard. 

Contrast that with Larry Rhoden's fundraising:

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(Larger interactive version) Rhoden has a lot less support in eastern South Dakota, but dominates West River. Rhoden also has a teensy bit more nationwide support, but nothing significant.

Annette Bosworth, on the other hand:

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(Larger interactive version) South Dakota is almost barren. Bosworth has raised a lot more money than Rhoden and Nelson, but far less in South Dakota. Instead, Bosworth’s map is dotted with yellow, reflecting a lot of scattered fundraisign around the country, but few real concentrations. She does have a disproportionate amount from Florida and the eastern seaboard, as well as the metro areas Denver and Chicago. All this fits with Bosworth’s direct mail-based approach of targeting conservative donors — often retired — around the country.

Here’s Rick Weiland:

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(Larger interactive version) Weiland has a broad national base of support, as well as a fair amount of donations from South Dakota. He’s not as concentrated in a few South Dakota cities as Rhoden and Nelson are, but significant portions of the map are covered with yellow and red. Weiland also has a big cluster in Washington, D.C. — despite his lack of support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — and is strong in Boston and San Francisco.

Finally, there’s Mike Rounds:

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(Larger interactive version) Rounds has raised a lot more money than anyone, and that’s reflected on the map. He’s collected money from a huge swathe of South Dakota, with a particular concentration in the Sioux Falls area. Rounds has also taken in a lot of money in the nation’s big cities: D.C. (but less prominently than Weiland), Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles.

Jason Ravnsborg and Larry Pressler have yet to report any significant fundraising.

Here’s all the interactive links in one place:

Rounds files nominating petitions

Gov. Mike Rounds became the fourth U.S. Senate candidate to file his nominating petitions this cycle today, according to his campaign.

Rounds filed more than 7,000 signatures, well over the 1,955 signatures a Republican needs to make the ballot for a statewide office.

Republican state Rep. Stace Nelson was the first Senate candidate to fill petitions, followed by Republican state Sen. Larry Rhoden. Both of their petitions have been approved by Secretary of State Jason Gant, as have those of independent candidate Larry Pressler.

Democrat Rick Weiland and Republicans Annette Bosworth and Jason Ravnsborg, among announced candidates, have yet to file their petitions.

Weiland needs 1,221 valid signatures to make the ballot.

Typically candidates turn in a number of extra signatures as a buffer against some signatures being ruled invalid.

Under the radar, Rep. Kristi Noem has also filed her petitions for reelection. Gant approved them on Friday.

Noem’s Democratic opponent, Corinna Robinson, will be filing her petitions today.

Candidates have until next Tuesday, March 25, to turn in their petitions.

Fired-up Rounds sticks with partisan red meat in GOP dinner speech

U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds unveiled a high-energy stump speech Tuesday night at the first major political event of this year’s Republican primary.

Rounds, a former governor and one of five candidates seeking the Republican nomination, avoided his prior themes of his experience and pragmatic approach to government. Instead, speaking to his hometown crowd at the Hughes and Stanley County Republican parties’ annual dinner, Rounds nearly yelled at times in his call to “take back our country” with “good, solid South Dakota common sense.”

The other four Republican candidates for U.S. Senate all gave their own speeches at the event, hitting their own themes.

Annette Bosworth, a first-time candidate and the second-youngest in the field, emphasized her outsider status and youth.

"The next generation of Republicans need to be attracted to the table and engaged in the process," Bosworth said. "It’s part of why I run."

Stace Nelson, who says he’s the most conservative candidate running, talked about his support for the South Dakota Republican Party’s platform and made a series of position pledges.

"I will not vote for tax increases," Nelson said. "I will vote to cut government. I will vote to cut spending. I will vote with conservatives to defund Obamacare… I will not vote for judges who do not respect life and marriage, period."

Jason Ravnsborg, a Yankton attorney and Army reservist, was the only speaker to criticize presumptive Democratic nominee Rick Weiland by name. But Ravnsborg also urged practicality, saying Republicans need to have alternatives to big government programs they criticize.

"Obamacare, we’re all against it… but we can’t just simply say no. People won’t stand for that," said Ravnsborg, who endorsed Sen. Tom Coburn’s "Patient CARE Act" bill as a replacement.

And Larry Rhoden, a rancher and state legislative leader, said the next senator needs to have both conservative values and the ability to get results.

Strong principles and a backbone “mean little if you don’t possess the leadership skills to bring people together,” Rhoden said.

Tuesday’s event was the first time all five Republican U.S. Senate candidates have appeared at the same event. It also came on the same day that Nelson turned in his nominating petitions — the first candidate to complete that necessary step to gain access to the ballot.

Rounds, who hasn’t appeared on the ballot since his reelection bid in 2006, spent most of his speech blasting the Environmental Protection Agency, generalized government bureaucracy, and tax increases. But he also downplayed the ideological differences between himself and his rivals, most of whom have positioned themselves as a more conservative alternative to Rounds.

"You’re not going to find a whole lot of difference between all of us when it comes to the principles we believe in," Rounds said.

South Dakota Republicans will pick their nominee in the June 3 primary election. Candidates have until March 25 to file nominating petitions to make the ballot.

National GOP to raise money for Rounds

The Washington Examiner is reporting that U.S. Senate frontrunner Mike Rounds, already tacitly supported by national Republicans, will get more direct assistance.

On Feb. 25, the National Republican Senatorial Committee will host a fundraiser for Rounds at its headquarters near Washington, D.C.

Also hosting are a set of Republican senators: South Dakota Sen. John Thune (who already endorsed Rounds), minority leader Mitch McConnell, NRSC chair Jerry Moran, and eight others.

It’s a reflection of the national establishment consensus that Rounds is by far the GOP’s best chance to win the Senate seat — as well as probably that he would be the best Republican running to join the Senate GOP caucus.

Outside group to make token pro-Rounds TV buy

Pat Powers at the South Dakota War College is reporting that the Government Integrity Fund, a Republican SuperPAC, will spend $1,689 on TV commercials supporting Mike Rounds’ U.S. Senate candidacy.

Even in a cheap state like South Dakota, $1,689 isn’t much money for TV ads. A single spot on KSFY-TV’s 10 p.m. news — where Powers says one buy is being placed — cost $375 in November 2012. Other spots can be less than $100 a pop.

So this isn’t someone blanketing the state. It’s more of a statement, a pump-primer, and a minor boost for Rounds — for a good number of viewers, it will mean they see a pro-Rounds ad before they see one attacking him.

The bigger question: will this prompt responses from other groups or campaigns? Or will it be a simple one-off incident?

I’ll post video of the ad once it runs.

Legislative session brings demands, opportunity for Senate candidates

When the South Dakota Legislature resumes on Tuesday, it brings with it new headaches for two of the people vying to be the next senator from South Dakota.

Larry Rhoden, a state senator, and Stace Nelson, a state representative, will spend more than half their time the next nine weeks attending committee hearings, caucus meetings and floor debates. Their Republican rivals Mike Rounds, Annette Bosworth and Jason Ravnsborg will be able to spend that time on the campaign trail in the state’s population centers.

"You’ve got basically eight weeks or so, where they’re more or less tied to a certain place for most of the week, and it’s going to limit their ability to do the kind of things candidates do — meeting with folks… (and) raising money," said Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen. "It takes them off the campaign trail for a large amount of time."

And the two men say they don’t expect to skip many, if any, votes for their underdog U.S. Senate campaigns.

"It’s going to be a difficult task," said Nelson. "I’m not looking forward ot the hectic schedule that’s going to be (the legislative) session."

Nelson said skipping votes to campaign wouldn’t “be appropriate,” and Rhoden agreed.

"I feel comfortable in being able to keep the two segregated, and my number one priority when I’m in Pierre is as a state senator," Rhoden said.

There is a potential upside for both candidates, however. With daily attention on the Legislature, both men have a chance to stay in the news without having to buy advertising.

"Depending on how things go, they can generate some free publicity for themselves," Schaff said.

Making sure that publicity is good publicity could be harder. Both will be under a microscope, with every vote and every speech waiting to end up in an attack ad.

"It can be a minefield when you’re in session, because you are under a microscope regardless of running in a statewide race," Rhoden said. "I think that’s magnified (when running for Senate), especially in my position chairing the State Affairs committee."

Nelson will be in the spotlight, too. Though he doesn’t chair any committees, he said he’s looking at 12 different bills, and plans to be outspoken on several major issues, including opposing a proposed repeal of the death penalty.

The key, Schaff said, will be for the two men to be “disciplined” in their actions.

The other three Republican candidates have jobs to occupy some of their time. Bosworth is a Sioux Falls physician with her own clinic. Rounds owns and runs an insurance company, though he says he’ll resign from his position sometime this year. Ravnsborg, an attorney, has said he’s arranging his cases to free up time for campaigning.

The only Democratic candidate, Rick Weiland, resigned his job as CEO of the International Code Council nonprofit in 2012.

Though Nelson and Rhoden have the chance to stay in the spotlight this legislative session, Schaff said it’s probably still a net negative for their Senate campaigns.

"If I was Larry Rhoden or Stace Nelson versus Bosworth, Ravnsborg or Mike Rounds, I think I’d rather be the latter three, all things being equal," Schaff said. "Having that ability to make your own schedule, not being tied down, I think I’d rather be in that position."

Nelson lowering fundraising expectations

U.S. Senate candidate Stace Nelson didn’t have fourth-quarter fundraising numbers to share on Friday, but he said the results would be moderate.

"It’s not going to be anything earth-shattering," Nelson said. "We did a little bit better than last quarter. We’re just a plowhorse chugging along."

Last quarter, Nelson raised $43,500 in a half-quarter of fundraising. He raised just under $1,000 a day. Projecting that out to a full quarter would have given him around $90,000.

Previously, Nelson’s rival Mike Rounds announced he had raised $516,000.

Rounds raises $516,000

The Capital Journal reports that Mike Rounds raised around $516,000 in the fourth quarter of the year.

That’s a slight decrease from the $607,000 Rounds raised in the third quarter, and gives him a total amount raised of about $2.1 million for his entire campaign.

None of the other campaigns have released fundraising totals yet for the fourth quarter. In the third quarter, none of Rounds’ Republican rivals raised more than $65,000.

Rounds’ campaign also tells me they’ll have about $1.15 million in the bank at the end of the year. That’s $136,000 more than the $1.014 million Rounds had at the end of the third quarter. So Rounds drastically increased his campaign spending in the fourth quarter, spending much of what he took in, for a “burn rate” around 75 percent.

(High “burn rates” are sometimes problematic for campaigns, but not always. It depends on what value the candidate is getting for money spent now compared to what value they’d get spending that money later. Given Rounds’ big financial advantages, he might feel he doesn’t need to be stockpiling cash.

More specifically, it is frequently a warning sign when a campaign’s high burn rate is largely due to spending money on fundraising. If a candidate raises $100,000 but spends $95,000 sending out direct mail solicitations, that suggests the $100,000 figure is largely illusory. If most of that $95,000 had been spent on TV ads instead, the fundraising figures would be much more impressive.)

We won’t know until Rounds’ full report comes out next week exactly what he’s spending money on.

I’ll post updates as I get fundraising numbers from the other campaigns. You can also monitor my spreadsheet of campaign fundraising.

(h/t SDWC)

Rhoden wants ban on lobbying by ex-members of Congress

A U.S. Senate candidate called for a permanent ban on lobbying by former members of Congress Wednesday.

The proposal was one component of a multi-part plan to reform Congress offered by state lawmaker Larry Rhoden, a Republican.

Currently, members of Congress can become lobbyists who are paid to promote ideas to their fellow colleagues once they leave office. House members have to wait one year after leaving office before becoming a lobbyist, while senators have to wait two years.

Around half of all senators and nearly as many representatives become lobbyists after retiring from Congress, reporter Mark Leibovich wrote in a recent book. That’s up from just 3 percent of retiring members of Congress becoming lobbyists in 1974.

Rhoden said this reform, and others, would help “create an environment where our nation’s best interests are always our first priority.”

Several of Rhoden’s fellow candidates disagreed with Rhoden’s call for a permanent lobbying ban for ex-members of Congress.

Mike Rounds, the Republican frontrunner, said he didn’t think the permanent ban would have a big positive impact — but said it would affect members of Congress’ “ability to earn a living after they leave Congress.” Depriving former members of Congress of a lucrative post-Congressional career, Rounds said, could make members less likely to leave office.

“I think we can debate the timeframe, on how long you want to restrict them from earning a living (lobbying),” Rounds said. “But in some cases, you don’t want to make it more difficult for them to actually leave office… you’re kind of working against yourself, working against the goal of having turnover.”

Rhoden has endorsed term limits that would limit people to three terms in the House and two in the Senate, and reiterated his call for such an amendment Wednesday. Such a change, however, would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires approval from two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of the states.

Stace Nelson, another GOP candidate for Senate, said Rhoden’s proposal for a lobbying ban “is missing what the problem is.”

“It is not the lobbyists who carry the special interest monies to our elected officials that is the problem, but the legalized bribery and the mass amount of monies given to Congress and candidates who these special interests want to control,” Nelson said in an email.

Several former members of Congress from South Dakota have become lobbyists after leaving office. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin became a lobbyist after her 2010 defeat, as did Tom Daschle after his 2004 loss. John Thune lobbied in between losing the 2002 U.S. Senate race and winning a Senate seat in 2004, and Larry Pressler formed a legal and lobbying firm after his 1996 loss, though Pressler said he did not lobby himself.

Rhoden’s lobbying proposal also would ban the “immediate family” of members of Congress from being registered lobbyists while their relative was in office.

In the Senate, some close relatives are currently forbidden to lobby any member of Congress — though the rule doesn’t cover certain categories, such as sons-in-law. In the House, a lobbyist isn’t allowed to lobby a representative they’re married to. But a representative can be lobbied by a child or parent.

A review by the Washington Post last year found 56 relatives of lawmakers have been paid to lobby Congress since the 2007 reform bill passed.

Rounds, who was skeptical of the ban on ex-members of Congress lobbying, said the spousal ban seemed like a reasonable proposal.

The other two Republican U.S. Senate candidates, Annette Bosworth and Jason Ravnsborg, did not respond to requests to comment Wednesday afternoon.

Rhoden’s reform plan also included requiring all members of Congress to put their investments in blind trusts, a provision denying members of Congress their pay unless they pass a balanced budget, and giving the president a line-item veto — the ability for a president to strike part of a bill without vetoing the entire legislation. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the line-item veto passed in the 1990s was unconstitutional, meaning a constitutional amendment might be needed to create one.

The Republican U.S. Senate primary is June 3, 2014.

(This post has been updated from an earlier version.)

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