Ex-S.D. Senator: Comeback Bid Based on 'Idealistic Concept'

If he runs at all, former Sen. Larry Pressler’s, R-S.D., bid for Senate as an independent won’t look like your traditional campaign. He said his campaign is running on an “idealistic concept” in a Wednesday phone interview with CQ Roll Call. Pressler, 71, referred to a famous line by William F. Buckley about his third-party bid for New York mayor in 1965. “If I win, I might demand a recount,” Pressler told CQ Roll Call. Pressler wasn’t even his own first choice to run, but everyone he’s spoken with about it has declined to step forward. Asked if he would be hiring a campaign manager or consulting team, Pressler said no. “It would be a non-conventional campaign, a very low-budget," he replied. "I don’t know if I’d be able to hire anybody." It's unclear how much heartburn an underfunded, former Republican who backed President Barack Obama in 2008 would cause for the GOP, which is currently favored here — especially with national Democrats still in search of a top-tier candidate. But Pressler hopes his campaign would serve as a conversation-starter and at least influence the debate in the race for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson — a top pickup opportunity for Republicans. Most of all, Pressler said he’s “disturbed” by the paralysis of the political system and the inability of Congress to strike a “grand bargain” on the budget. He strikes a remarkably nonpartisan position on the budget for someone who boasted a fairly conservative voting record in his last term. Pressler is confident Americans would be willing to pay a little bit more in taxes or give up some social programs to forge a budget agreement. “Most people are talking about this and writing books and articles, but some people have got to start running for office as an independent,” he said. “I think this would serve a great public purpose.” After serving four years in the House, Pressler in 1978 became the first Vietnam veteran elected to the Senate and went on to serve three terms. Johnson defeated Pressler by 2 points in 1996. A Rhodes Scholar and Harvard-educated attorney, Pressler said he’s spent a lot of time teaching overseas since leaving Capitol Hill, including in China, India, France and Italy. He’s kept a home in South Dakota, where he’s currently spending the semester teaching at the University of Sioux Falls. Pressler will decide whether he’s running by early 2014. Republicans already in the race include former Gov. Mike Rounds, state Sen. Larry Rhoden, state Rep. Stace Nelson and physician Anne Bosworth. The only Democrat currently in the race is former congressional aide Rick Weiland. The race is rated Lean Republican by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.