Politics

Poll Finds Independent Candidate Gaining In South Dakota

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FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2014 file photo, Larry Pressler, who served three terms as a Republican U.S. senator for South Dakota from 1979 to 1997, is seen in Sioux Falls, S.D. Pressler is running as an independent in the race to fill the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson. Pressler will be challenged in the Nov. 4 general election by Democrat Rick Weiland and the winner of the June 3 GOP primary. The deadline is Tuesday, April 15, 2014, for all the U.S. Senate candidates to file their quarterly FEC reports. (AP Photo/Dirk Lammers, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2014 file photo, Larry Pressler, who served three terms as a Republican U.S. senator for South Dakota from 1979 to 1997, is seen in Sioux Falls, S.D. Pressler is running as an independent in the race to fill the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson. Pressler will be challenged in the Nov. 4 general election by Democrat Rick Weiland and the winner of the June 3 GOP primary. The deadline is Tuesday, April 15, 2014, for all the U.S. Senate candidates to file their quarterly FEC reports. (AP Photo/Dirk Lammers, File)

Kansas isn't the only state where an independent candidate could throw something of a wrench into the campaign for the Senate.

A new poll of the race in South Dakota, conducted by SurveyUSA for several state media outlets, finds a close three-way race, with Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds at 35 percent and independent Larry Pressler pushing past Democrat Rick Weiland to take second place with 32 percent. Weiland took 28 percent in the poll, with independent Gordon Howie taking 3 percent and another 2 percent undecided.

The results suggest Pressler, a former South Dakota senator who previously served as a Republican, is pulling more votes from the Democratic candidate. Pressler, who lags badly in fundraising, has adopted a centrist message, arguing that Obamacare should be improved and not repealed, filing a brief in support of gay marriage, and suggesting that he might choose not to caucus with either side.

"If we have a closely divided Senate between Republicans and Democrats, I can be an ingredient for both sides to work for a bipartisan agreement," he told the Rapid City Journal this spring. "So, I can be a more powerful senator as an independent."

Polling data is relatively scarce in South Dakota, but the SurveyUSA release gives Rounds the smallest margin he's received in any survey taken in the past two years. While previous polls have shown Pressler attracting double-digit levels of support, SurveyUSA's is the first to show him overtaking Weiland, or to find him breaking 30 percent. HuffPost Pollster's tracking model still gives Rounds a more than 10-point lead over both his rivals, and a nearly 90 percent chance of winning.

SurveyUSA's poll for KSFY-TV, KOTA-TV and the Aberdeen American News surveyed 616 likely South Dakota voters between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5, using a combination of automated phone calls and an online questionnaire.

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