The potential for a high-profile Democratic squabble to succeed South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson â€” who is widely expected to retire â€” has grabbed the spotlight of the race so far.
But the possibility of an equally contentious Republican primary is brewing beneath the surface.
For now, the Republican field remains a party of one. Former Gov. Mike Rounds, who jumped into the race in November, is viewed by Republican leaders from Washington, D.C., to Sioux Falls, S.D., as a top-tier recruit. If nominated, Republicans believe Rounds would put the party in a strong position to win one of the GOPâ€™s best pickup opportunities.
However, Rounds is highly unlikely to have a free ride to the nomination, local GOP sources said. South Dakota conservative activists are desperately seeking an alternative to Rounds, a moderate whose eight-year tenure enraged many in the right wing of the party.
While they await a decision from Rep. Kristi Noem, who would offer Rounds a stiff challenge in the primary, one other potential candidate is state Senate Majority Whip Larry Rhoden.
â€œI think that itâ€™s safe to say that there are a number of people in the state that would like a choice in addition to former Gov. Rounds,â€ Rhoden said in an phone interview. â€œI have had some conversations with many folks along that line. I certainly havenâ€™t made any decisions but havenâ€™t ruled it out at the same token.â€
Rhoden added that any potential challenger to Rounds will have to weigh the former governorâ€™s fundraising head start as part of the decision.
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