Keys to South Dakota Senate race: Tribal votes and Keystone XL

Is the die already cast for the upcoming election?

 

It’s now forty days until Election Day, but if you add up all the polls then this campaign die is already cast. The Republicans won, picking up seats in the House and enough to capture the Senate.

The compilation from Real Clear Politics tells the story in its map, showing Republicans ahead in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. Subtract Kansas and that leaves seven, one more than what’s needed for Mitch McConnell to move into the majority leader’s office.

As Nate Silver points out on FiveThirtyEight.Com, “Republicans are favored to take control of the Senate but the race is close; essentially the same conditions have held all year. As of Sunday morning, the GOP’s odds of winning the Senate are 60 percent in the forecast, only half a percentage point better than where they were after our previous update on Friday.”

There is only one problem with that scenario. We haven’t voted yet (except where early voting has started, such as South Dakota and Iowa). And if you think back to 2012, remember that two states that most forecasters got wrong were Montana and North Dakota. Why? Because the American Indian vote “outperformed” the models.  That can happen again in Alaska, and, in my long-shot special, South Dakota.

Let’s look closer at South Dakota's Senate race. No pollster even ranks this as a competitive race. Former Gov. Mike Rounds is leading the polls by an average of 13 percent. He is facing several opponents: Democratic nominee Rick Weiland, and former U.S. Senator Larry Pressler, a former Republican now turned Independent. The conservative alternative, Gordie Howie, will also be on the ballot.

So unless something changes, Rounds will probably win with about 42 percent of the vote.

What could change that equation? Perhaps the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Should the Republicans capture the Senate, a vote to build the Keystone XL pipeline could come as soon as “January 2nd,” Rounds said over the weekend. This is not just Rounds talking. A recent Associated Press story said a bill to approve the pipeline will be the GOP Senate’s first act because “Obama might find it difficult to veto such bipartisan efforts.”

Both Pressler and Weiland oppose the pipeline, splitting the vote. Weiland has even called the pipeline “a big money con” that would bring little benefit to South Dakota. Weiland was an adviser to former Sen. Tom Daschle and is familiar to many on Indian issues. He’s been endorsed by all nine tribes in the state.

Earlier this month the Native Sun News held a debate on American Indian issues and Rounds was the only no show.

But at forty days out, there needs to be a game changer. Folks who see the Keystone XL pipeline as the most important issue facing South Dakota ought to settle on one candidate and use the last month to let voters know why. This will not be easy. Unlike Kansas and Alaska, there will be several candidates on the ballot no matter what. But if a single message is sent loud and clear, well, it might be enough to win. South Dakota is usually one of the top states for turnout, probably in the range of 355,000 people. That means a candidate could win a multi-candidate race with 160,000 votes. (Even Obama could not do that, he only received 145,000 votes two years ago.)

Still, 160,000 is not an impossible number when several candidates are on the ballot. But it will take elevating the Keystone Pipeline issue and for the Cowboy and Indian alliance to coalesce around a single candidate. That is if the Keystone XL pipeline debate is important enough to chuck politics as usual.

Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Southern Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors announces an outstanding opportunity for a creative leader to continue building this organization. SNC proudly supports Nevada's public...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.