Former Gov. Mike Rounds said Friday that he is seriously considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
The former two-term Republican governor has previously said he was "not closing any doors" on future political campaigns. But he went beyond that Friday when asked about a 2014 run for the seat held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.
"I am giving it serious thought," Rounds said.
It isn't just thought, however. A former chief of staff for Rounds, Sioux Falls businessman Rob Skjonsberg, has reserved two Internet domain sites that could be useful to a future campaign.
Contacted Friday about the domain reservations, Skjonsberg said he secured the names for a modest cost last year to protect them in case Rounds decided on a Senate. If the sites were reserved by someone else, it could complicate things in a campaign or possibly cost the Rounds campaign substantial amounts of money to purchase, Skjonsberg said.
"At that time, I was just working to protect him from someone who might try to capitalize on the domain should he decide to run. I was just looking out for his best interests," Skjonsberg said. "And if he decides to run? I'm a big fan and I'll be there to help. Maybe he'll use that domain site."
Rounds said he is still far from a decision on 2014, the last year of Johnson's third U.S. Senate term. Rounds said he is concentrating on his work as a partner in the Fischer Rounds & Associate real estate and insurance firm based in Pierre, where he works with his son, Chris.
"Today I'm working in private business. I like working in private business," Rounds said. "But nonetheless I want to keep my options open concerning a 2014 run."
Rounds, 57, said he is not interested in the U.S. House seat held by first-term Republican Rep. Kristi Noem.
"We have a House member, who's a Republican," he said. "I've never looked at the House race."
The Senate, however, is more interesting. And Rounds has spoken to Republican Sen. John Thune about the logistics of getting back and forth from Washington, D.C., to Thune's home in Sioux Falls.
"I've visited with Sen. Thune about how he has been able to work out keeping in contact with the family, maintaining a household in South Dakota while still working in Washington, D.C.," Rounds said. "I think John has done a super job of staying in contact with people back here and keeping his roots and staying grounded in South Dakota while participating at fairly high levels in Washington, D.C."
It would be a more complicated chore for Rounds, however, since his home is on the Missouri River shoreline north of Fort Pierre.
"Air connections are more difficult if you want to live in the Pierre-Fort Pierre area," Rounds said. "That has been part of the discussion as well."
Rounds also said he had previously discussed the transition from governor to U.S. senator with Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Mike Johanns of Nebraska. Both served as governors prior to their Senate runs.
As popular governor, Rounds would make for an imposing candidate for either the Senate or the House, said Ken Blanchard, a political science professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen.
"What kind of chance would Rounds have? I would think anybody would have to say it would be a pretty good one," he said. "I'm a little surprised he's not considering the House. If he's sure he doesn't want to run for the House, he has to hope Kristi Noem doesn't run for the Senate seat."
Noem is a possibility for that race, provided she wins re-election to the House this year. But she won't talk about 2014 possibilities.
"I've hitched horses up to wagons before, and I know which one goes first," Noem said, in a quote provided by her staff. "The job South Dakotans elected me to do is the one I am focused on, fighting for responsible spending cuts and homegrown affordable energy. I don't have plans for anything else besides working hard to represent South Dakotans in the U.S. House."
Bob Burns of Brookings, a professor emeritus in political science at South Dakota State University, said that despite Rounds' popularity as governor, he will have lost some standing during more than three years out of office.
"It's not easy to make a comeback, although he went out a winner," Burns said. "And that's a lot different than going out a loser."
If Noem wins re-election and ends up facing Rounds in a 2014 Senate primary, it would be a contest comparable to the clash between then-Gov. Bill Janklow and then-Sen. Jim Abdnor in the 1986 GOP primary won by Abdnor.
"It would be of that magnitude," Burns said.
Rounds cautions people, however, against assuming too much for now. Those people include Skjonsberg.
"He's made it clear that if I decide to do anything, he'll be there for me," Rounds said. "I've told him I'm keeping my options open. But it's not the time to be making decisions for 2014."
Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or email@example.com