DAKOTA DUNES | Speculation that he could run for the U.S. Senate is following former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds to a Union County Republican Party event Thursday night.
"I don't think it is out of the realm of possibility that he would take the opportunity, because we are going to have a very good crowd with a lot of supporters in the room," state Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, chairman of the Union County Republican Party. The group is holding its annual Lincoln Dinner at the Dakota Dunes Country Club.
Rounds was elected governor in 2002 and 2006. Term limits prevented him from running again.
U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., faces re-election in November 2014. He has not indicated whether he is seeking a fourth term. Two Johnson staffers recently have left his office, fueling speculation that Johnson is winding down his Senate career, Lederman said.
Perry Plumart, a Johnson official, said the senator has not made any decisions about 2014 and that it is too early to speculate.
Rounds and South Dakota Republican Party officials were not immediately available to comment for this story. No other candidates have entered the race.
State Democratic Party Executive Director Ben Nesselhuf said all indications are that Johnson is heading for a 2014 re-election bid.
Lederman, a close friend to Rounds, said he expects the former governor to run for the Senate regardless of Johnson's decision. He said Rounds could use the Lincoln Day Dinner to announce his plans.
Announcing his campaign this early could discourage other Republicans from entering the race, Lederman said.
Since leaving office, Rounds has been a partner in a Pierre insurance company and has been using the Peter Norbeck Political Action Committee to raise money for Republican legislative candidates.
"It helps him with building relationships with people who are in campaign mode every two years," Lederman said.
Rounds also recently stepped down as the PAC's chairman, another possible sign of a Senate run, Lederman said.
"The indicators appear to show that he will be a candidate in 2014," Lederman said.
Rounds spoke at the Lincoln Day event in 2006.
Johnson has been in the Senate since 1997, following stints in Congress, the state Senate, state House.
Nesselhuf predicts both Rounds and Johnson will run in 2014.
"Mike Rounds would be in for a race unlike anything he's ever dealt with. If he thinks he can beat Tim Johnson, ask John Thune (who lost in 2002) how that went. Ask Larry Pressler (who lost in 1996) how that went. They always think they have the secret to beating Tim Johnson," Nesselhuf said. "There is a reason why he is the most successful politician in the history of South Dakota. People know that he is a South Dakotan through and through, and that makes a difference in these races."