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Despite EB-5 Scandal, Rounds Is Still the Odds-on Favorite. And Here’s Why

(NPN) — 2014 is not 2002.

Pierre correspondent Bob Mercer and the Mitchell Republic’s Denise Ross, both knowledgeable old hands about S.D. politics, have recently tried to make the case that the 2014 U.S. Senate race for the Republican nomination might be a time where money isn’t the overriding factor–and that it’s more akin to the 2002 GOP gubernatorial primary.

But in this case, the past is not prologue.

What is far different in this 2014 Senate primary race compared to the 2002 gubernatorial primary is despite the EB-5 scandal and trying to make it stick to Gov. Rounds, the 2002 race was far more based on personal attacks (keeping skin from burn victims, remember?). In addition, in 2002, the two better-funded candidates—former Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby and Attorney General Mark Barnett—had enough money to run a barrage of nasty, negative TV ad against each other.

The state hasn’t seen that level of negative political advertising before or since.

In 2014, only Rounds and challenger Dr. Annette Bosworth have had the money to buy TV time so. Both have kept their TV ads positive about their own candidacies.

That’s a completely different media dynamic than in 2002.

In 2002, Kirby and Barnett waged scorched earth warfare on each other and the voters rejected them and voted for the “nice guy”–or at least the guy who was “none of the above.” And Rounds also had enough funds to get his positive message out.

So far, Bosworth has shown little interest in hitting Rounds very hard on EB-5, etc.

So, until Rep. Stace Nelson, Maj. Jason Ravnsborg or Sen. Larry Rhoden have the money to do so, they are going to have to depend on earned media to try and score points with the elecorate. That usually isn’t enough unless it is a Watergate-esque scandal–one that everyone can wrap their head around and say “Oh my God!”

And EB-5—so far—hasn’t risen to that level among the electorate. Only some of us in the punditracy, the media or in politics have reacted with either more than passing interest or alarm.

The EB-5 scandal is a tough story to tell. Mercer, Ross, the AP’s Dirk Lammers and Carson Walker, the Argus Leader’s Jonathan Ellis, the Aberdeen American News’ Scott Waltman and others in the S.D. media have done a good job trying to do that.

But it is convoluted.

Most South Dakotans apparently figure that’s how business works in the state and they aren’t shocked. Benda’s death could help the public make the connection that the whole thing is sordid—or worse–but there’s apparently no official evidence that Benda’s death is anything other than a sad personal tragedy.

And time is running out for the GOP candidates who want to use EB-5 against Rounds in the primary.

Nelson, Ravnsborg and Rhoden haven’t gotten financial traction yet. So, unless some well-funded outside groups swoop in and attack Rounds, there likely will be no sustained paid media attack against Rounds. And even in that case, he’ll still have the funds to fight back.

So, the 2002 analogy is interesting but doesn’t really fit this race or trump the general premise that money wins elections-like it or not. Expect Rounds to handily win the GOP nomination and likely be South Dakota’s next U.S. Senator.

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