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
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation is searching for a driven and creative leader to build a movement, conserving and restoring America's rivers by helping customers find...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Deputy Director/COO who will have the overall responsibilities of general program management, staff management, financial & budget management,...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...