Late Friday, the NRSC, the campaign arm of the Senate Republicans, announced it was pouring $1 million into South Dakota to shore up GOP candidate Mike Rounds, long considered the presumptive front-runner for the seat. The move matches an earlier decision by Senate Democrats to aggressively contest the seat in South Dakota. The late moves are a parable for the underwhelming Republican performance this election.
The race to fill the seat of retiring Democrat Tom Johnson had long been considered a nearly certain pick-up for Republicans. While the upper plains have long sent Democrats to Congress, the states’ votes for federal office have increasingly mirrored their strong GOP preference in Presidential elections. The DC establishment quickly rallied around former GOP Governor Mike Rounds to complete a sweep of the Dakotas. His anemic campaign and the candidacy of a former favorite of the DC GOP establishment, former Sen. Larry Pressler, running as an independent, has made the race more competitive.
South Dakota is the second state once considered “safe” for the GOP to come into play late in the election. The other, of course, is Kansas where long-time incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Roberts faces an aggressive challenge from wealthy Independent candidate Greg Orman. Roberts chief weakness is that he doesn’t actually live in Kansas. He listed the address of two campaign donors, C. Duane and Phyllis Ross, on his voter registration.
In addition to South Dakota, the NRSC also announced it is increasing its spending in 5 other states; Iowa, Colorado, Georgia, Alaska and New Hampshire. These states have been competitive the entire election cycle. Last week, the NRSC pulled its advertising out of Michigan, a state where the Republican candidate began the campaign ahead in the polls. In essence, the Republicans are shoring up their positions in battlegrounds that have been competitive since the start of the campaign.
Across Capitol Hill, in contrast, House Democrats have been pulling money out of races against incumbent GOP members and diverting the money to defend their own seats. Just a few months ago, House Democrats were confident they could cut into the GOP majority in the House, today, though, it seems they are just hoping to minimize the number of seats the Republicans gain in the House.
It is possible the trend in House races towards Republicans is an early warning signal of a wave that will ultimately benefit Republican Senate candidates. Perhaps the likeliest scenario is that the GOP picks up just enough Senate seats to capture a majority and then witness a number of Republican candidates fall 2-3 points short of gaining additional seats.
This is ultimately the tragedy of the NRSC move into South Dakota and its eventual move into Kansas. With Obama at historically low approval ratings and absolutely nothing “working” anywhere in the world, late GOP resources ought to be flowing into Virginia, Oregon, Minnesota or even New Mexico. The Republicans, benefiting from the most favorable election map in modern history, will probably hold on to gain a majority in the Senate.
It will be much the way the French “held on” to Verdun almost 100 years ago. They kept their position but were never again a significant fighting force.