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.