Ask Mike Rounds what his campaign plans are for 2012 and he takes the coy road.
“None that I know of,” the former governor says. “I’m a businessman these days.”
The dodge takes a different turn when you ask about 2014, however.
“Oh, you never know,” Rounds says.
Rounds is right, of course. We don’t know what he’ll be doing when the 2014 campaign cycle rolls around. But we do know that Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson will be up for re-election, should the three-term senator decide to try for four.
We also know the U.S. House seat now held by Republican Kristi Noem will be in play, with Noem likely to be the incumbent considering both a House re-election race or a try for Johnson’s Senate seat.
We also know there’s a low-odds possibility that Noem could get beat in her re-election bid for the House next year. And we could see former Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin get back in the game, depending on Noem’s standing with voters and Tim Johnson’s plans.
And Rounds? He’s a threat at any level of political campaign in South Dakota. And the fact that he has a new political action committee — named the Peter Norbeck PAC — leads some to believe he’s more than a little likely to make a run for something in a few years.
“I think the creation of a PAC is an indication that Rounds is looking at doing something in 2014,” says John Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen. “It doesn’t take much imagination to guess that he has his eyes on the Johnson Senate seat.”
Some think Johnson’s son, Brendan, the U.S. attorney in Sioux Falls, has his eyes on the same seat, should his dad decide that 28 years in Congress, including five House terms, is enough.
Rounds steers around those points of interest when asked about the purpose of the Norbeck PAC. He says his primary goal with the committee is to raise money for other Republican candidates going into 2012.
“We’ve got a huge number of Republicans in the state Legislature today,” Rounds says. “When it comes time to fund their campaigns, there’s going to be a huge demand for donations.”
Rounds had more than $250,000 in his own campaign account to start the year.
He’ll transfer some to jump start the PAC, then solicit donations. He chose Norbeck’s name after consulting with descendants of the early 20th-century South Dakota governor and U.S. senator, whom Rounds greatly admires.
It’s an interesting choice of names.
Norbeck represented the progressive wing of the Republican Party way back when. He wasn’t afraid to put government to work in ways that would trouble conservative South Dakota Republicans of today.
They don’t much trouble Rounds.
“Rounds as governor was clearly comfortable using government as an instrument of economic development. We certainly saw that in higher education,” Schaff says. “One can only assume that Rounds doesn’t want to position himself as a stridently anti-government Republican. If he has designs on Johnson’s Senate seat, he’ll have to show he is able and willing to ‘bring home the bacon’ in terms of South Dakota pork.”
These days Rounds is more worried about bringing home the pheasants. But in time, he’s almost certain to take aim at other moving targets.
One could be that U.S. Senate seat.
Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or Kevin.firstname.lastname@example.org